Playing is sacred

Growing up at the Jersey Shore, my favorite arcade game on the boardwalk was skee ball.

Even as an adult I can’t resist a couple of rounds if I see a skee ball game. I’m not particularly good at it, mind you, I just like it. The same is true of my minigolf skills and my stint playing softball. Recently I was chatting with my now-adult niece and nephew about playing cornhole. They didn’t realize I had a set of boards, and I joked, “Come on now, this is why I am the cool aunt.” To which my nephew replied, “That game closet was always the bomb.” He was referring to a closet full of games, Legos and a marble racetrack that still exists in my house. Aunt Beck is always ready to have some fun!

Prior to being a pastor, I volunteered for almost a decade in youth ministry. I always had fun stuff at the ready. You would be surprised how exciting bubbles and sidewalk chalk are to middle and high school students. There is something about their simplicity that makes all of us nostalgic. At the time, I taught using the book “Way to Live: Christian Practices for Teens.” This book includes a chapter on the spiritual practice of play and connects play to sabbath. Teaching teenagers about this connection was not a stretch, in that stage of development playfulness comes naturally still.

These days I work predominantly with adults, and we tend to shy away from play as the stuff of childhood. Yet, we too, need sabbath and playfulness can be a great reset button. Once in a while I will convince some adults to use play dough as we explore something in worship.  I may set up prayer stations where there are many playful options. I’ve found that in adulthood we try to justify our play as something earned. This is not the case. We do not earn play (or rest) because we have finished our work. We play and rest because we practice sabbath. Sure, as we grow up our play looks different. It takes a bit of reframing to understand play in our adult lives. The golf course is a place many people go to play and relax. Or perhaps we go to the craft stash to get creative. For some, it is the kitchen to cook up new dishes. We can reframe these as ways we engage in play to practice sabbath renewal.

If we think of play not as something extra we get to do but something essential in our lives, it can really help us to grow in our faith. I wonder: Have you ever felt close to God on the golf course or hiking trail? Have you ever considered your part in the continuing creativity of God as you knit, scrapbook or paint? How about when you whip up a new dish in the kitchen, do you embrace the gift of creativity there? Have you engaged in a deep sense of community around the table as you played a board game? Or in an online gaming forum? Have you experienced a sense of peace around the campfire as you sing or make s’mores?

Playing is sacred. It is one of our earliest forms of learning. If we allow the space for play, it can continue to be a place to learn. It can also be a place to experience God’s presence, to live our faith and to practice creativity and community. Get outside today and blow some bubbles, hula hoop or hopscotch. No matter how you play, may God bless those moments and grant you a sense of renewal.

REBECCA GRESHAM-KESNER is pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church in Medford, New Jersey. Outside of church and family life, you can find her in nature, finding fun ways to be creative or asking awkwardly deep questions of people she just met.