Play is an act of self-abandonment: we stop taking ourselves so seriously and simply enjoy life. In one sense the kingdom of God is like a playground.
James Bryan Smith
I carefully climbed up the smooth concrete sides of the train. The steepness challenged me, but I persisted because I had gazed at this playground train for months while it was under construction. My five-year-old self perched very close to achieving my dream, but one more thing lay just inches from my grasp. The elusive chimney at the far end of the train must be inspected before I returned to the ground far below me. What was inside that chimney, enquiring minds had to know, or mine did anyway. Painstakingly I shimmied in a seated position forward along the top of the train. Inch by inch I felt bolder. Inch by inch I became certain of a positive outcome. Inch by inch I focused on reaching that brick chimney, so I could peer inside.. I would like to tell you about the sweet bird’s nest I saw or the family of magic elves that I discovered. What I came face to face with was… precisely nothing.
The bell rung. I had to get in line to return to my classroom. The fear of my teacher’s punishment trumped my terror of falling. I had to find a way down. In quiet desperation I pushed off with my hands and slid down the rounded and very smooth side of the play structure so rapidly that I landed on my back in a heap.
Reaching up to touch the back of my head, I found the warm sticky evidence of blood. I wasn’t the only one to become aware of this because many of my young classmates were now expressing their concern with boisterous commentary and plenty of hand signals.
British people are known to be prepared for most emergencies with large white handkerchiefs, rolls of polo mints, and when these forms of first aid fail, a hot cup of tea. After applying the handkerchief to the back of my head, I was ushered in rapid fashion to the nurse’s office to seek more elaborate medical intervention.
What followed was a trip to the hospital, stitches and stern lectures from both my mother and my father. “What were you doing climbing up there? “You must be more careful.” And what I took away was:
- playing and exploring is dangerous
- avoid any risks
- you are weak and fragile
While reading The Good and Beautiful Life, author James Bryan Smith assigns readers an exercise to go and play. “Play is a spiritual exercise that can teach us about living in the Kingdom of God.” He goes on to explain, “God wants us to be full of joy, and play is a way to experience the goodness of God and the richness of life.” This challenge led me on a journey to discover why I had lost touch with play on a playground at five years old. Years later as a young mother, I struggled to play with my children when they were little. There always seemed much more important things to do. As I have a third pass through the playground as a grandmother to a toddler, I wonder if I can find my way back to the joy of play? Can I, in the words of Smith, “train my body to live with genuine excitement” by finding my way back to fully experiencing the kingdom of God? Is there a way for me to regain my ability to play?
How about you? Do you find ways to play? How is the Kingdom of God like a playground? Is playing a good way to practice tending your soul?