The Discipline of Play

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Somewhere along the way I traded exploration, creativity, imagination for utility.  Somewhere along the way I decided usefulness trumps play.  When time is short, and the reality of the darkness of our world creeps in, and work threatens to suffocate, who has time for art?  Who has time for recreation?  Who has time for pleasure?  When my Christian brothers + sisters around the globe are losing their heads for their faith, how can I justify sitting idly and losing mine in a book?

I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great theologian and pastor in Germany during the Nazi regime, desperately fighting against the dominance of the Nazi mindset and theology, its putrid sectarianism creeping into Christ’s very church.  What a time to live in!  Believers during that time were facing intense persecution and the daily knowledge that their time was short, their lives were at risk.  Hardly was there time to waste when doctrines must be fought for and upheld, lives must be rescued.

And yet, even in the midst of this time of war, Bonhoeffer, who led + taught a seminary, regularly included recreation as part of the seminarians disciplined life.  Did you catch that?  He made sure they had time to P L A Y.  Who could possibly think about playing in a time of such great risk and suffering?

But the reality is, who can think at all if one doesn’t have the release found in play?

One of Bonhoeffer’s students said,

“Bonhoeffer wanted a genuine, natural community in the Preacher’s Seminary, and this community was practiced in play, in walks through the richly wooded and beautiful district of Pomerania, during evenings spent in listening to someone reading, . . . in making music and singing, and last not least in worship together and holy communion. He kept entreating us to live together naturally and not to make worship an exception. He rejected all false and hollow sentiment.” (I Knew Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p.155)

Sometimes when the world is spinning crazy and threats of war overwhelm, we must remember our humanity, we must still honor the creativity with which our Creator instilled in us.  He made us to be creative in His image.  He made us to be moved by music, to be triggered by the beauty of nature toward mediation on His divine attributes.  When we are tired and weary, we must discipline ourselves to play.

We must make art in the face of war.

And even in the weariness of our regular work, we must sabbath and refresh our souls.

Something God has been teaching me lately is to honor His creativity in me, the desires I have to pursue the arts.  It was more natural to me as a child; I have journal after journal of poetry, drawings + scribblings, and stacks of songs I had written from my younger years.  Then I “grew up” and gave all of that up in the name of maturity, adulthood, in the name of pursuing God.  Somehow I separated “creating” from true spirituality, no longer seeing it’s use in the Kingdom work.

But God is calling me to be a child again in my creating.  To honor the longing to write, to get back to the work of play.  Plain and simple play, play that isn’t for any purpose other than play.  No agenda, no hoped-for-outcome.  For a utilitarian like myself, this is a discipline!

So, yesterday, after the kids were napping and my household tasks were mostly done, I sat down with a paintbrush + paper.  I’ve never worked with watercolors before, never really painted much before.  It was humorous to me how many times I got nervous about what I was doing, afraid to “mess it up,” and literally had to say out loud to myself, “This is just play.  Just fun.”

This was the outcome (and, not pictured: a restful, happy me):

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Let’s take time to play, let’s discipline ourselves to play when all the world is telling us that only what is profitable, only what is measurable is valuable.

Who knows what we could create?  Who knows what beauty we might bring forth?

5 thoughts on “The Discipline of Play

  1. It’s so hard, isn’t it? To remember to play? I don’t recall even doing much of it as a child. But I feel a longing to return to more simple and restful times. Thank you for the encouragement to use my ‘fringe hours’

    Danielle

    1. YES Danielle! We have so much to learn from children, who play so naturally and are so carefree. It’s sort of hilarious that I have to discipline and schedule “play time” in. If my words are any encouragement to you, I am so honored! Blessings to you!

  2. This is a fantastic encouragement. I love how you mentioned me of Bonhoeffer…I was reminded of his piano playing and the music his family created. And that sweet little one, how beautiful!

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