Go Out And Play!

8 06 2011

These are reflections on chapter 5, “Play Day,” from Dan Allender’s book, Sabbath.

Allender begins this chapter with this introduction:

In God’s economy there is no distinction between work and play; his creation is not due to lack, loneliness, or necessity. It was free and groundless – that is without reason, other than delight (81).

Sabbath, in this chapter, is about a day to return to playfulness. Sabbath involves “creativity, the making of something new that is full of surprise and glory that will bless through the lavish, free and playful kindness of God” (83).

Playfulness is in us; created to be in us. Even in the animals you witness it (in fact, in order to learn how to survive they practice through play); yet life scrapes the play out of us and instead of fighting to keep it, we become orderly.  Don’t you see that? It is more common for people, as they age, to become annoyed with play than delighted. In fact, my kids are surprised when an older person enjoys them instead of correcting them for their shenanigans. Play is random and noisy and we think, to get through the day, the more organized things are, the saner it will be. Allender says the opposite: “I want the tidy and true; I crave the wild and unknown” (87).

Yes, that is true, I feel it all the time.

The other day I was at Greenbay Bible Camp here in the beautiful Okanagan. It was a warm Sunday afternoon and I was sitting on a chair reading this book, this chapter. My son Josh (age 15) had been out and about with friends, but suddenly there he was on his bike, all sweaty and grinning from ear to ear. I saw him scan the lake with his eyes, spotting our friend’s boat on the water, loaded with our two families. He did not think (as is his custom). He dropped his bike and, fully clothed, ran full-tilt down the beach and on to the dock.

I knew what he was doing and, without thinking, I yelled, “You don’t have a change of clothes!”

From the boat, my husband took another approach. He yelled, “You can make it,” knowing full well he couldn’t.

I watched Josh charge down the dock and, not hesitating for a moment, jump with wild abandon off the dock and into the air with a yell of delight, all arms and legs, plunging into the still chilly water. Laughter on the boat. Laughter in the water. Pulling his soggy self onto the swim grid. Greetings all around. I smiled.

I returned to my book and realized what I had done. It was a living illustration of what I was reading – play; and I had expressed caution over delight. Why? My natural instinct, the one given to me by God should be to laugh, but I reverted to the cautious steps we have taken ever since the Fall; I sought to control. How I hated that reaction just then.

Play is a celebration and it is a risk as well. Allender describes playing with photography and the risk within that play:

The more I angle for a better shot of the plumage, the more likely I will spring the preening eagle from its nest and lose the shot I have so diligently waited to capture…if I move, I fail. If I sit, I am blocked by the branch. The nature of play is that it exposes our demand for mastery as fleeting and illusionary. Our deeper hunger for mystery requires us to move and wait and to be thrilled when the moment comes that we are captured by the words we have written or the picture we have taken – because we had a part, yet only a small part in the play (91).

The Sabbath calls us to play in order to sense and see God’s delight. It is a day, Heschel writes, “to mend our tattered lives; to collect rather than to dissipate time” (94).

It is a day outside of our routines to try and even fail at play. Creativity always carries the risk that we will look slightly foolish. Though I am not suggesting running naked through the streets, isn’t this what King David did that day he was overcome with gratitude to God? Talking about play! “No wonder we’d rather subject ourselves to a restful day off than risk true play” (95).

Sabbath is a day to look for and find the random gifts from our Heavenly Father. To be surpised. To laugh once again. To stare at dreariness and defy it with a grateful heart filled up on the Sabbath.

“To play in the fields of God” will vary. Sometimes it will mean a book by the fire. Some days it will happen when you are on a boat on the lake. Sometimes around a table playing Settlers of Cattan (incidentally, my current nickname: Darth Vader). Sometimes a conversation on a path somewhere. Sometimes by ourselves, but most often play will happen communally, where we both participate in joy and revel in giving joy to others.

As I reflect on this, I think about why we don’t play: the feeling that we are not totally in control when we play, the vulnerability of it, the thought that we could look foolish, the mess that play makes, the fleeting nature of play, the inability to let ourselves go and experience it, the fear that play could be dangerous, the need to look a certain way, the communal nature of play. All of these things have to do with death; either physical death, or death of an idea or image.

This is the point of the Sabbath: the Sabbath is anti-death. The Sabbath is meant to restore life.

…all Sabbaths are a direct, face-to-face, underdog challenger to death. The Sabbath looks death in the eye and says, “O death, where is your sting” (1 Cor. 15:55). Sabbath doesn’t deny that death exists; instead, it celebrates life (97)

Sabbath is a day to display that foolish, child-like faith that plays. Sabbath is jumping of the dock with wild-abandon knowing that the consequence of our life is not ruin, but heaven.

— Teresa Klassen

P.S. A great way to re-learn how to bring the play back into your Sabbath: Greenbay Bible Camp in West Kelowna B.C.

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