A Whimsical Dictionary: P is for Play

A Whimsical Dictionary: P is for Play

A Whimsical Dictionary of Surprising Influences.

P is for Play –

“The life of God is simultaneously work and rest, because all God does, working and resting, He does with the majestic ease of play.” (St. Augustine, Confessions)

Play is that which brings and sustains innocent delight. Play celebrates and affirms some aspect of life. Creativity involves play, and in fact the imagination is the mind at play. Even though play is an instinctual activity, and sometimes has no apparent purpose and is seemingly unnecessary, it is wrongly considered a time-waster. Play is instead full of significance and meaning, and has remained a critical component in the development of culture, language, and worship. Play is essentially a time-redeemer.

“It is not only possible to say a great deal in praise of play, it is really possible to say the highest things in praise of it. It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task-garden; heaven is a playground.”  (G.K.Chesterton)

Most of our modern play, though, is really disguised work: We make it goal-oriented, rather than just enjoying it for its own sake; we feel obligated and burdened to play, rather than allowing play to come naturally and delightfully. We place play on our work schedule, rather than work on our play schedule. We play in a spirit of work, instead of working in the spirit of playfulness.

One case-in-point is the ever-present “playboy.” He is someone who works so hard in the pursuit of pleasure that pure delight is an alien experience. He is compulsive about his self-indulgence, and so is not really free to stop. His sexual activity has no constraints, is not responsible or life-giving, and so has no celebrative ingredient. It’s no wonder that sexual impotence is common with playboys.

You may be amused at the frustrated or bored sexpot, but the workaholic is in the same mess. Workaholics find their worth in what they achieve, their whole identity is wrapped up in their achievement, and so are incapable of playing and “wasting time.” Sad to say, they are generally found to be less effective and productive than those who are able to affirm their worth in areas outside their vocation. Those who occasionally look for opportunities to playfully waste time are usually the ones who work with joy and find equal amounts of merriment in both completing a task and performing no task at all.

“Salvation must mean, in part, the marriage, or rather the remarriage of work and play. And if we are already privy to foretastes of the Kingdom here and now, then signs of its fruition must appear in playful, felicitous labor.” (Eugene McCarraher)

Educational research has shown that playful recess breaks actually improve school performance. Taking recess out of school schedules produces budding workaholics, student frustration and distractibility, and even stubborn school phobia. It certainly doesn’t lead to productive students. Apart from the creative outlet, the mental break and the physical release, play serves its students by teaching the players social skills like how to negotiate differences, cooperate, and set up rules by which to play. Recess is a much needed playful coffee break from the rigors and pressure of school performance. Let the students play.

During creation, Jesus as Co-Creator is said to have played on the surface of the earth and found delight in mankind. (Proverbs 8). The idea of our being God’s playmates for eternity, and that His creation is His playground, is intriguing and remains a joyful hope. Would that our lives be re-creational, reflecting that same explosion of delight in all that we do. Perhaps heaven will be an eternal play date with the cloud of witnesses, no matter the work load.

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