Theology of Play

As this post is published, I am currently at the Theology of Play conference in Portland. As a nerdy pastor, (see our “Choose Your Own Adventure Confirmation Program“) I was so excited to see a conference geared towards faith formation and play! But as I prepared myself for this week, I was reminded this idea is nothing new.

A History of Play

In 1972, theologian Jürgen Moltmann wrote his work, “Theology of Play“. Copies of Moltmann’s work are now out of print and fetch a hefty price. Because of this, I can only read what others have written of Moltmann’s 113 pages on play. My favorite is from the one and only review on Amazon.

Thus, Theology of Play is as perplexing as it is profound and mysterious as it is illuminating. Moltmann wants to see a paradigm shift–from work to play, from necessity and outcome to freedom and spontaneity, from adult notions of purpose and goal to childlike enjoyment of God for its own sake, from law to gospel.

Wes Ellis – Amazon Review

Finding Freedom in our Faith

And so I love this idea of finding freedom in our faith, in our learning, and in our lives. I think so many of us get caught up in the seriousness of all that we do. Our hearts break for those in need in our community. The news causes us frustration or fear. There are so many to-dos and so much on our plates.

Sometimes we forget, that even God rested on the seventh day. We forget about joy and freedom to act without a goal.

I wrote about my experience last week dreaming and celebrating God’s creation and our creativity, and today I write about the freedom we have to find enjoyment.

Formation & Self-Care

You only have to look at most children and youth ministry to see the importance of games and playtime for learning and faith formation. But it’s so much more than just getting all the wiggles out before we sit down for the “serious” stuff.

Playing provides a space for fellowship, for questions, for fun. And that’s just as important in our faith formation as it is in our self-care.

Recently I sat down with my husband, Greg, and shared that I had been feeling really overwhelmed. Partly it was the schedule I had been keeping with ministry and bookkeeping. But mostly it was feeling overwhelmed by stress. My schedule hadn’t really changed that much. But from our car breaking down and needing to be replaced, difficult community conversations, difficult individual conversations, and then our dog getting very sick – I had reached my limit.

I pointed out to Greg that I’ve been making time for self-care. For things not related to the church or to my bookkeeping. We’ve been doing a lot of social activities with friends. We’ve been having family time together. I listed all the ways I thought I was caring for myself.

And then Greg asked, “When was the last time you played?”

When was the last time you played?

That question struck me so deeply. As a nerdy person, I usually spend some of my free time, my self-care time, playing. Video games, board games, silly made up games with Hadley. From letting Hadley chase me around our kitchen island to pen and paper and dice with friends. It had been at least a month.

At least four weeks since I last played just for the joy of it. Just for the fun of it. And that was way too long.

Just as God delights in creation, delights in us, we too need those moments of delight. We need those moments of freedom.

Purpose Without Purpose

One of my most favorite authors Brené Brown writes in her books, and in an article, “Why Goofing Off Is Really Good For You“, about the importance of goofing off! She quotes researcher Stuart Brown, MD, describing “play as time spent without purpose.”

It is one of her guideposts to whole-heartedness. Not only is it important developmentally for children, it’s important for us as adults too. The purpose of play is not to have a purpose, to be free in that moment.

And as a person of faith, who can read about God’s playful nature, about creation singing and dancing, about the way joy and celebration are so integral to God’s creativity in the world and in our lives – of course play is important for our faith formation too.

Whether it be fellowship, self-care, games, activities, or a time of laughter. I hope you might find some time for play this week too.

What are ways you give yourself rest and this playful freedom? Could you incorporate more playful activities into your life?

Pastor Megan Filer

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