The dance of good deeds

The medieval mystic, Meister Eckhart, claimed, “God laughs and plays in good deeds.” Laughter and play call strong and specific images to mind, such as my young children splashing with delight in the ocean on our family’s recent vacation. “Daddy!” they shout, “Come and play with us!”

But what is playful about good deeds?

I would like to tell all the members of the church I serve that God laughs and plays. It’s true! And right now, I feel like we could all use a lighthearted message and a holy playtime.

During the pandemic, many church members have worked incredibly hard. They have supported our ministry, even when it was exclusively online. They have taken care of one another — from the sick and heartsick to widows and widowers, from the parents of newborns to middle school students. They met the needs of the larger community by creating a meal delivery program. To accomplish this, they worked in partnership with a family-owned restaurant that cooks nutritious meals from locally grown food and a nonprofit that assists adults with special needs. Our members volunteer to deliver the meals. With the help of our community partners, we hope to expand this food assistance ministry to feed even more people, including a community living in tents in the woods.

All of this is meaningful, yet it is also taxing on body and spirit. The “dance of good deeds” is to balance caring for ourselves while taking care of others. Though I believe that “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17), I have looked at my own weary face in the mirror and wondered if I was facing burnout. Instead of fatigue, could good deeds bring laughter and play?

Yet another initiative we took on during the pandemic was for our predominantly white church to meet over Zoom with a neighboring Black congregation for a weekly Sunday afternoon prayer meeting. Following the murder of George Floyd, we wanted to do something more than just a book study on antiracism. When I called the church, the pastor invited us to join them in prayer.

The call always begins with one of their deacons singing a hymn, usually one of the spirituals. With a holy twinkle in his eyes, their pastor then issues a monthly challenge for all of us, inviting us to put our faith into action.

One month, we were instructed to reconnect with someone we hadn’t seen for 10 years or more. Another month, we were told to leave a gift of appreciation for either a sanitation worker or mail carrier. The most recent challenge was to pay the grocery bill of the person behind us in the checkout line.

These challenges are all good deeds, but I never would have thought of them as “play.” However, this view changed after I heard the participants reporting back each week. They shared how they reconnected with members of former churches and laughed when remembering the times they had shared, such as homecoming feasts laid out on tables in the shade of oak trees or Sunday evening prayer services when they sang old, familiar hymns. One person told us how his children made thank-you cards for the men who drove the recycling truck. The next week, the men dropped off toy trucks made out of recycled milk bottles and the kids hadn’t stopped playing with them.

Another person described how, after she paid for the groceries of the man behind her in the checkout line, he burst into a jig right in the store! After she shared this story, our friend stepped back from her computer so that we could watch her demonstrate his joyful two-step!

God laughs and plays in good deeds. Just ask the children delighting in their new toys. Or the man dancing in the grocery store. Or the reinvigorated church members clapping with delight in their tiny Zoom squares.