Let us play

Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House

Summer and sport go together. In fact, it cannot be avoided! Despite its corruption into an industry, sport plays an invaluable part in community and national life. Playing games is an essential tool in individual development. The current ‘foundation stage curriculum’ for early years learning places a great emphasis on learning through play. As we are creatures made in the ‘image and likeness of God,’ theo-logic demands a conclusion that God is a God who plays: the words of the psalm come to mind: ‘you formed that leviathan to sport before you in the deep’! The Lord takes pleasure in his creation; he delights to see it at play. The divine provision of the Sabbath Day on which there is ‘to be no manner of work’ certainly means that God is not a workaholic!

Recreation (Re-Creation) is an indispensable element in spirituality. All work and no play mean that religion will always have an upper hand over spirituality. A life that has no room to play suggests a life that is overburdened by work and responsibility – a person in a condition like this is in serious need of a review of life. Duty must give way from time to time to the ecstasy of just doing something for the fun of it. Engagement with any re-creative activity (it could be bridge, fishing or snooker) means engagement with other people and often with creation. There is a freedom and a joy to be found in the pleasure of the activity itself. A ‘purpose-driven life’ has no room for play; a God-centred life demands room for ‘play time.’

There are many valuable lessons to be drawn from playing. Team sports help us to be aware of the gifts and abilities of others – there is a sense of koinonia or community in any team. Through sport we become aware of our own gifts, abilities and limitations: there is cause for thanks and celebration, but also for humility. Sport is an apparelled meeting place and point of contact between people of an endless variety. The decline of team games in schools and the contemporaneous decline in collective worship make an interesting parallel.

Sport and play should not be confused with the contemporary obsession with gymnasium-produced fitness. In play and sport the body is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. Most sport and play brings an individual into relationship with others and with God. I am not quite sure where the spirituality of the long distance runner fits into all this (except to say there is plenty of room for individuality in sport)!

The Sabbath is in the Church’s playtime. Liturgy (in its more traditional Catholic forms) is being at play before God. It is creation re-ordered by creatures for God’s sake: it is of no practical use. It is an aesthetic, multi-sensual, team activity. The chanting, arm-raising liturgy of the football crowd is a distorted reflection of true liturgy; in public worship, people of all ages and backgrounds listen, look, and respond with body, mind and spirit to the revelation of God at work and play. Playtime teaches us we are not saved by our own work; we are free to be and to enjoy. The Father provides his children with everything they need to be playful. Let us play.