In my first year of ministry, I am continually drawn back to a moment in seminary that has served as the genesis for my own (re)thinking of play.
I was taking an experimental preaching course on the spatial elements of the Book of Acts. Each week we were asked to "occupy" (literally and metaphorically) a different space associated with a particular text. From these places we were to write, respond, and preach. On the very first day, we met in the quad rather than a stale classroom. As the class began, a large parachute was unfolded before us, the kind we all remembered from our elementary school days.
"What should we do?" asked the professor.
Slowly, our memories sprang our bodies into action and it wasn't long before we were taking turns teaching and indeed playing our favorite parachute games.
The exercise was never explained, never processed. Later, half way through the course we were brought in one by one to let the professors know how it was going. I told them, one a preaching professor and the other a New Testament and ritual scholar, that I was happier during that class time than any time I could remember in recent years. "It's like holy play," I said.
The ritual theorists perked up and remarked that play was considered the highest form of ritual.
Play has become my hermeneutic for both preaching, study, and in many ways life. Now, working with youth at a church I see that we're raising a generation that does not know how to play, how to flirt between freedom and structure, who does not know the poetry and jazz and playfulness that makes up the created "order."
I would wager to say that while one can understand faith without being playful, one can not have it unless one understands the give and take, the unpredictable pitfall and grace that constitutes the fabric of play.
Rob McClellanAssociate Pastor for Youth, Their Families, and College MinistriesBryn Mawr Presbyterian Church
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