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Further Thoughts on the God of Play

Maria Thompson’s comments on my post earlier about my koala dream and the playful nature of God, reminded me of the Hindu concept of lila (or someties leela) which means the playful creativity of God.  It is a concept that Stephen Nachmanovitch discusses in his wonderful book titled Free Play: The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts.  He explores the ways in which the delights of improvised art are doorways to the delights to be found in everyday life.  He is essentially talking about the practice of play as essential to the Sacred Art of Living, with which I wholeheartedly agree.  I only wish there were a similar equivalent term for lila in Christianity or Judaism.

What might taking the playfulness of God seriously really mean? (a bit of an oxymoron I realize!)  Do we allow God to be spontaneous and creative, letting go of preconceived ideas of how things should be, taking joy in the simple acts of improvised and undisciplined play?  I hear a lot of talk in Christian circles about “God’s Plan” but I have never been comfortable with that kind of language, usually because such talk seems to revoke our freedom and has God micro-managing every last corner of the universe.  I am far more satisfied to imagine a God who allows creation to unfold moment by moment, being guided by the profound love and care which is of course, God’s very nature.  How might allowing God (and ourselves) this kind of spontaneity and freedom impact our spiritual practices?

Because it is so hard as adults for us to make time to play, I believe that everyone should have an adult play group of their very own.  Maybe this means participating in some of our programs like the Monthly Gatherings when they start again in the fall, if you are in the Seattle area.  Maybe this means joining Betsey Beckman’s fabulous SpiritPlay class once a month or one of the many other InterPlay workshops offered around Seattle and the country.  Maybe this means just gathering together some friends for regular playtime, just for the pleasure of it.  Remember recess at school?  What if our faith communities had adult playtime built into all of their other programming? 

Wanna come out and play? 

~Christine Valters Paintner

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4 Responses

  1. I know of many people in whom their suffering did not produce hope, in fact only despair. I am not satisfied with an image of a God who allows suffering to happen to teach us a lesson of some kind.

    Actually I give God great benefit of the doubt, it is our human aspirations to laying claim to understanding minute actions of the divine that I often have doubts about. I will reflect more on this and try and articulate it better in a post later on. Thanks for spurring me on.

  2. I suspect many feel that since God has ultimate power, He must be using that power, just like we would, to control everything~ just like we would boss everyone around and go power-mad dictator-like, if we had ultimate power.

    But I feel that that’s a wrong supposition about the nature of God ~
    I don’t recall anyplace in the bible that said God caused suffering. He allows it to happen so that we might have perseverance, character, hope. (Romans 5:3-5 ~ “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
    And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”)
    Isn’t that beautiful?

    Yes, I read Julie’s “Image of God” column when she linked it on her site~ good stuff. Really, we lay too much blame and distrust at God’s feet. We never give Him the benefit of the doubt…

  3. Other Christine, :-) welcome back and thanks for your comment. Glad my post prompted your own musings. Please don’t feel bad or sad for me though. If anything, I grew up in a family that could have used a lot more boundaries. Although I do think people in general have far too many boxes.

    I agree that perhaps it is just semantics. I prefer to think of God’s Desires for my life, knowing that there are many paths to making God happy (as in the comments on your post of Plan B, C, D, etc). Plan just sounds so definitive and so determined. As a spiritual director, I have seen far too many people anguish over finding just the right path that is part of God’s plan. There is a wonderful article from Commonweal (A Catholic social justice magazine) critiquing, in a humorous way, Rick Warren’s book, the ultimate proponent of God's Plans:

    Oneof the author's quotes that reflects well my own position is:

    "That may mean not just that we don’t always understand the secret purpose and meaning of events, but that sometimes the secret is, there is no secret. Seeing God everywhere may be just as idolatrous and belittling as seeing God nowhere. I, for one, hope we don’t keep turning God into the kind of human who has no further surprises in store. I worked for a guy like that once, and frankly, he was tiresome. Sometimes I hope the random things that happen to us, and the brilliant creativity we sometimes show thanks to the Spirit, are just as surprising to God as they are to the rest of us."

    The other area that this language makes me uncomfortable is when it comes to suffering. I hear people try to explain away suffering by claiming it must be part of God’s mysterious Plan, yet I don’t believe in a God who causes suffering for any plan. I don’t mean the suffering that comes from not getting what we want, whether a job or relationship, but the kind of profound suffering that exists in the world: wars, holocausts, genocide, and much more. For some other very thoughtful reflections on this topic read Julie Bogart’s last two columns over at UPI:
    The Fragile Mortality of God

    Bearing the Image of God

    Peace and grace to you!

  4. I’m sorry to hear you have an unpleasant association with the word, “plan”~ it makes me think there must have been a lot of rigid people around you, and that makes me feel bad/sad for you, and for all the others who might have to live in a world like that.

    It’s been a great word in my own vernacular, to describe His definite interest and help in my life, His absolute-Best plan for any part of my journey, and the freedom behind it~ I don’t have to go along with any of His plans, if I don’t want to (free will!); but if I do go along with it, things will shine out in wonderful and inspiring ways!
    This is a good thing to blog on…..I see what you’re saying, and it’s cool to compare!~