Monday, July 30, 2012
I just finished reading Holy Listening by Margaret Guenther, which has a delightful section on the relationship between praying and playing. She quotes the Cloud of Unknowing and its anonymous author's counsel about avoiding extremes, "Sometimes their eyes look like the eyes of wounded sheep near death..far better a modest countenance, a calm composed bearing and a merry candor." She suggests a touch of playfulness in prayer helps stretch our boundaries about what is possible in prayer and life and may even help us tap the well of energy we once had in our youth.
I wonder, too, if it doesn't help us avoid spiritual agenda setting. To play is to give over goals and achievement, and instead taking up a "willing spirit" that Psalm 51 (Ps 51:14) asks for. To see what might happen, in the same way that when I was small, I poked at things with sticks, and peeked around corners. It was a willingness to enter into the moment, to play with and in creation, and by extension with and in the Creator. Not as a duty, but just to see what might happen. It fosters a holy curiosity. There is a joyful persistence in play as well, that we could do well to take up in prayer. A child at play can be hard to move, ask any parent of a three year old, not because they know longer is "better," but because they are caught up in the joy of the work at hand, be it messy or even risky.
It reminded me of the comment in Walter Brueggemann's book on the psalms, where he says we all too often
lapse into a "cool, detached serenity" in prayer. The Psalms, he suggests, awkwardly push us toward the concrete, the embodied. It's a call we should heed.
When I was young, I remember my dad helping to build the playground at the new parish school that would open just in time for me to start first grade there. I loved to swing on the swings. I can still remember the delight when I figured out how to pump, and could go higher and higher without my dad pushing me. It felt like flying, and offered an unparalleled view of the flat Illinois farmland that surrounded us. And there was the heady risk of an "underduck". Would I be jounced out of the swing? Would I go higher than ever? Could I stop without ruining the tops of my shoes? If I were pushing, would I get kicked in the head or dump the swinger off?
I hadn't been on the swings since my kids grew old enough to cross the street without me, and I wondered why I had surrendered that wild joy? Yes, it's not dignified. Yes, yes, I might fall off and break something. So last week, on my walk, I stopped at the empty playground, and did more than remember. I pumped until I flew high in the sky. I swung. And I prayed.
Photo is from Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.
And I can still hear my mother's exasperated voice about my shoes....