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Play and Practices

I’m reading a book called, The Gift of Wonder: Creative Practices for Delighting in God (by Christine Aroney-Sine).  I have no idea how I came across it, but I am delighting in it.  “Nothing lights up the brain like play…”.   “We don’t usually think about having fun with our spiritual practices…I find myself wondering if we need to rethink what spiritual practices are and how they connect us to God.”  “Restoring the joy of play restores the joy of spiritual practice.  It is part of our journey toward redemption and salvation.”  And the question, the beautiful question, “What creative and playful activities do you enjoy that could become fun spiritual practices for you?” 

What an amazing idea that play could be a spiritual practice.  A restorative practice as well as a transformative one.  It delights me that play could lead me into mystery, into love, into intimacy.  But, that is something that play does.  It bonds us to our play-mates.  It helps us to stretch and learn new things because it is fun or because we are doing it with someone.  

I no longer play with dolls, or nurses kits.  I don’t pretend to be a cowgirl while riding my bike or of  being a ballerina when I listen to classical music. I no longer build forts in woodlands, and I don’t ice-skate on frozen lakes.  Those were a few of the things that lit my brain when I was a child. 

So what does light up my brain now?  

First, I find it much easier to mention the things that do not light up my brain.  Doing dishes! Doing laundry! Watching sports!  Reading assembly instructions!  Filling out forms!….  But, the question is, “What creative and playful activities do I enjoy that could become fun spiritual practices for me?”  Creative and playful being the important words.  

My play seems to be mostly solo.  Walking around the local lakes, being outdoors seems to clear my mind, creates mind space to think without a screen.  Knitting seems to light up my brain….learning a new stitch or technique, or weaving a basket.  But, what would it look like if I were to “play into” those things that don’t seem to light up my brain?  What if I were to change the narrative or make a game out them?  What would a child be doing if they were doing the dishes?  What would they be appreciating or noticing?  What would they be trying to do?  How would they fill out the forms?  (Can I at least think about it?)  I can still do the solo things; Visiting with people one-on-one , reading, writing my thoughts down in a journal.  But, whether I enjoy doing something or not, how would a child do it?  

I may even come up with a list of playful practices to use when I feel depleted?  A quick go-to “playlist”! What might I notice?  God watching?  God playing with me?  And how might it make me feel while I’m doing it?  Can I let go of the “I have to get this done” feeling?  Can I just be with myself in a more joy-filled way?  Will I feel grounded and relaxed?

So if you’ve read this far, I wonder if you have any thoughts about play as a spiritual practice and what other questions I might ask myself when I play.

Centering Prayer

“Praying with a sacred word disposes the one who prays to
the open depths within by drawing to stillness the
wandering mind that flits and skitters all over the place.”
Martin Laird

Dispose, let go, part with
the distraction.
So that
…my intention,
will govern or influence, 
…will be a gift.

Make this matter, this letting go,
be a habit, a tendency, 
be a disposition of sorts,
And…
…finding a word
decide the matter.
Set this aside, …and this, …and this.

Breathe the word.
Be willing and posed…
For presence sake,
…I begin where I now am,
To make this order what it needs to be.
A tendency, an inclination…
This first, this stilled self, this Presence, 
This word that gently brings me back to what is first.
Things let loose, set free, disposed of, 
so I can lean a different way.
Let my disposition be one of leaning toward,
Like a child,
Receiving the Gift.

Mary Herbert. February 2022

This poem comes from meditating on a paragraph written by Martin Laird.  There were two things I thought of as I wrote it.  First the word, “disposed” which has several meanings that fit so well together with some of the ideas within Centering Prayer, which was the second thing I was thinking of.

Centering prayer is a prayer practice, introduced and written about by Father Keating, which at its core is the desire for the presence of the Divine. It is a wordless prayer, yet uses a word to bring oneself gently back to the Presence when our thoughts drift. Father Thomas Keating has written several books on this practice so I won’t try to explain it further.

Recognition

Four years ago, late at night, I was sitting in a comfy chair in my brother’s living room while he sat at the desk. He had just turned on some beautiful music and said he loved the artist, Joni Mitchell. I replied and said that I wasn’t familiar with her or the song. This sparked unbelief in him and embarrassment in me.

Fast forward to a few days ago, I intentionally turned on Joni for the first time since that occurrence. As I listened to song after song, I realized I knew Joni Mitchell without knowing it was Joni Mitchell. And what an interesting concept that is.

To recognize a person by their voice and that which is dear to them. This isn’t new, those that are blind or deaf live a version of this every single day. Can you know a person without knowing their face? Can you recognize a person without knowing their name? Can a person be known even if they cannot be heard?

So why can’t we apply this to faith?

I think we have given God quite the ego. The need to be praised and recognized on a daily basis in a certain manner and by a certain name. To be known and be proven right. Does that make any sense??? Why would God need us to defend her? I think the ego is ours but we impart in unintentionally to the God we serve. Brené Brown and Richard Rohr speak about this very thing on two of her recent podcasts, Unlocking Us.

We treat God as though we have him figured out. As though we understand the parameters of what she likes and how she likes it. But if we are only just beginning to grasp the expanse of our own galaxy, how can we think that all there is to know about God is contained in one compilation of poetry, oral history put to paper, parables, wisdom teachings, prophecy, and letters?

And here is the best proof I can offer up that God is bigger than the book:

Jehovah.

Period. One word. One name. Translated it means: Lord. The Existing One. And if you take the word apart, it means ““to become” or specifically “to become known” – this denotes a God who reveals Himself unceasingly.”

For so long, Christians have treated the Bible as though it contained all of God. When the very name God was most known by, speaks to the very nature of how unrestrainable he is, I think it needs to be foremost in our brains to be open and accepting, attentive to the holy all around us. No more could a Christian hold back the tide, than the Bible could God.

The kids and I have been listening to the audiobook “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum. I went to an Evangelical youth camp where this movie was used to show that without Jesus you can only have the appearance of intelligence, courage, or love and that too often people choose to go to those who appear to have the power to change others. But I think a different allegory can be found in this tale. Too often we look for a God we can understand and take apart. One that doesn’t pull the wool over our eyes, but I think we do a good enough job of that ourselves. We want validation and certification of what we already possess. My oldest was frustrated by the fact that Oz didn’t actually give the weary travelers anything, because they already had it. He knew it. Oz knew it. But Oz gave them the validation they needed. So here are the characters as I see them: people = the band of mighty travelers, Oz = the church.

That’s probably enough blasphemy for today.

Naaaaah. Two last thoughts.

I wonder if this is one of the reasons in the 23rd Psalm we are given the image of a shepherd that leads us by still waters. Because it is a wonderful tool for reflection. Literal and figurative. Because if we are willing to look for that holy Shepherd, we will find those holy moments where we realize who we are. And thereby realize who God actually is. It is circular.

But that also makes me wonder if the purpose of 1st Corinthians is so that we see ourselves through the eyes of Christ and therefore see Christ with our eyes. The whole chapter really could be applied in that manner, but I am thinking specifically of verses 11 & 12, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”

As a child, my understanding of Christ and my place in this world was both simple and simply complex. That Jesus loved me was enough. And it is. But now my understanding of Jesus is much more complex as is that of myself. And we see in a mirror dimly to see our reflection and catch a glimpse of the Great Unknown as he continues to reveal a new characteristic. And maybe that is the point. To be known.

Pass the Peace

Two women, 
whose stories we do not know,
One sits at one side
Her mouth askew
From birth or accident,
Or maybe tumors left too long.
So good at sheltering
She is seldom seen.

     So who will see her?
Who will pass the peace to her?
For peace is what she needs.

The other,
Whose story we do not know
Sits on other end
Of this long and blackened pew.
Straight and tall
She looks ahead 
or looks down
  from unseen wall.
What troubles must she carry, 
To hide behind them all?

     Who will see her?
And who will pass the peace to her?
For peace is what she needs.

So who will sit between them
And see them as they are
And who will scale the walls
And see beyond the scars
To pass the peace between them
For peace is what they need.

…So as I seat myself between them
I wonder if I am seen?
My story known to me
I see the walls I’ve built
And know some scars are deep.
Who will pass the peace to me?
For peace is what I need.

There are other verses that could be written.  People whose stories we don’t know.  Who sit alone or sit with others, yet lonely. Or, the people who are beyond the walls of our churches and homes, who are sick and homebound or don’t attend a church, who don’t need our judgement but need peace.

Mary Herbert  April 2022

This poem comes from a picture painted by a participant in a Narrative Circle that I gather with.  She painted a picture of a recent experience that she had in church (and gave me permission to use it in this poem), which brought to mind the sermon I heard the Sunday before.  The sermon acknowledged the sign of peace as something more than a coffee hour greeting but an incarnational gift that we give and receive.

What does it mean?

Deconstruction.

Such a scary word. And you know what? It should be. Because when we take something apart, we can be pretty near certain that it won’t go back together the same way. Not if you are honest about it.

That. That right there is what is really scary about taking apart your beliefs. It requires honesty with yourself. In todays society of filters, seeming perfection, or complete avoidance, being honest with ourselves is hard, uncomfortable, and a rarity. It is easier to accept church tradition, teaching and/or doctrine (TTDs) than it is to look at it naked, away from the pressure, hype, and lights.

I am NOT saying that all TTDs are wrong or unhealthy, I’m not saying that. I am saying that the unexamined faith, isn’t really faith… that’s just drinking the Kool-Aid and we all know how that story ended.

Example: Easter. David Hayward, the Naked Pastor, posted on Facebook, “We say the grave could not contain him but believe our theology can.” And Oofta, that has been so relevant this month for me. My church history and tradition told me that Jesus came to die for me. Because I have sinned and sin equals death thereby he died for me. This can also be known as substitutionary atonement. And for the first 30 years of my life, I ignored the little beep in my brain. All of this comes back every Easter season full force. This season I began to really ask the questions out loud.

  • Why did it have the be so violent a death? If the point is victory over death, couldn’t this have been achieved by dying absolutely any other way and coming back again?
  • Was the point of Christ’s entire life those three days? Or was it really about life and how he lived and, since being human, he experienced death?
  • At the time of Christ, I had done nothing wrong. How was it my sins, my wrongs that put him on that tree? How can you atone for what has not even happened??? How does that answer mesh with free will? Pre-destination?
  • What kind of father or mother knowingly sends their child to a gruesome, horrible execution? That goes against every single instinct in my body— instincts that are God given. It doesn’t make me feel better that Abraham was willing to do so to Isaac. “I love you so much. Would you be willing to go die for these people I created?” Uh…. What? No… I would go so my kid didn’t have to. But then you have the mess of the Trinity being three at one time, so technically, maybe? I wonder how much of my previous military approach to scripture affects my view of Scripture? How much has it effected my view of God?

Deconstruction looks like this ⬆️. Maybe those are simplistic questions and probably, quite common. I’m not saying I’m original or that this is my idea. This is just my approach.

Honest answers to those questions are hard. And many of them, I don’t know. I don’t need to know all the answers, but the mystery and wonder are increasing the more I ask and challenge. The God I believe in is good and kind. Much of what I see in Easter doesn’t mesh with the simple, easy answers that are cheaply given in rote.

In Easter, I see victory in compassion over cruelty and love over hatred. I see a moment where the Christ shared in the suffering around him to the point of allowing himself to be crucified. I see women so desperate for answers they hang around a tomb, asking any who come close. I see men racing with hope. I see Jesus. Ending his ministry as he began it. One on one with the people he loved. I am reminded of the song “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie.

Cause love’s such an old fashioned word

And love dares you to care for

The people on the edge of the night

And love (people on streets) dares you to change our way of

Caring about ourselves

This is our last dance

This is our last dance

This is ourselves under pressure

Bowie, D., Mercury, F., Deacon, J., Roger , T., May, B., “Under Pressure”, single released in 1981.

The people that followed Jesus only to see him die a vicious death, they were in a trauma induced forced deconstruction. Those hours that felt like years between seeing him take his last breath and miraculously appear to them individually in precious moments, were long and filled with every thought, question, and probably the realization that they had come full circle. The people on the edge. The broken, the weary, the desperate. Me. You.


I would love to hear your faith questions. I won’t have answers to them, but… we feel less alone when we ask questions out loud together.