Last Tuesday I attended a seminar on budgeting and finances organized by a friend of mine. We sat at tables covered in brown paper with an array of markers and small containers of play-doh.
“I just think we could all use a little more play in our lives,” said my friend, who brought vibrancy to a topic most dread to discuss. “We could work play into things a lot more than we do.”
The idea of play and delight has resurfaced several times this past week. I’m coming to believe that play is not just something we could all use a little more of – it is, in fact, our primary purpose in being.
My favorite paragraph in Norman Wirzba’s Food and Faith is in reference to Sabbath rest:
“God’s rest has nothing to do with fatigue, as if God could become tired of creative work. Rather, it has to do with the intense joy and peace, the supreme delight and contentment that followed from God’s life-giving work.
“When people think of Sabbath, they tend to think in terms of exhaustion: rest is a break, the time to escape from the harried pace of life. For God, however, rest is best understood as God’s complete entrance into life and as God’s availability to and joy in the beauty and goodness that is there.
“Directly contrary to human restlessness, the constant, frantic searching and striving for a different place or a better community, God rests because there is no other place God would rather be. God rests because the place where God is is the place of God’s love and concern and work, and there simply is no other place worth going to. Sabbath is not a reprieve from life but the putting to an end of the restlessness that prevents deep engagement with it.”
While I’m sure this restless inability to understand Sabbath play is not a problem unique to American Christians, the combination of our present capitalist economy and our Puritan past surely shapes a culture that shuns rest in its attempt not to be lazy (a hat tip to my old friend, Max Weber).
We are, after all, a country that clings to the aphorisms of Benjamin Franklin: Remember, time is money. And time spent resting is not just time spent spending, it is time that could be spent earning instead (my rough interpretation of his Advice to a Young Tradesman).
But if time is money, how rich is the man who can rest, delight, and enjoy the fruits of his labor!
Of course, to talk about delight would also require we enter into conversation about enjoying our bodies and the physical world in which we live. It would require us to acknowledge that our fear of laziness is actually in part a fear of earthly pleasure. We shun all delight of the physical world thinking without it, we would sin no more.
But if we look again at that original sin, could it be, at least in part, a failure to seek delight and joy?
The story of Adam and Eve is a story of two people who didn’t delight in what they had. They didn’t yet know brokenness, or heartache, or pain. But still, they felt they couldn’t truly delight until they’d achieved something more. And we all know how that story ended.
So instead of resting, of playing, of delighting in the day – instead of learning from the original mistake – we dream of heaven as some spiritual realm where the physical will be no more. Or we restlessly await the restoration of the earth, the day when all tears will be wiped away.
We treat Sabbath rest as the day allotted so that we can carry on for the next six. Or to prove our resilience, our fortitude, we grind our teeth and work our seven days straight through.
We “work hard, play hard.”
We laugh, “I’ll rest when I’m dead.”
But if we cannot allow ourselves to delight even now, why are we to believe we might find delight amidst perfection?
Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who works with gang members in L.A., writes that his inspiration to find delight in every moment comes from the words of Jesus to the robber on the cross, “This day…with me…Paradise.”
“It’s not just a promise of things to come,” he says, “it is a promise for the here and now…with Him…on this day, in fact…Paradise.”
Perhaps God did not assign us a day to rest so that we could handle the hard work of the other six.
Perhaps we work hard for six days, so that we can have an entire day to do nothing more than enjoy.
Perhaps the focus is not primarily the work, but rather the focus is the play.
Perhaps God asks us to take a Sabbath because God is with us, this day, every day, in Paradise.
But we must set aside the time to bask in it to see.
In Wendell Berry’s short story The Solemn Boy, he tells of a farmworker named Tol: “It is a fact..that Tol never hurried. He was not by nature an anxious or a fearful man. But I suspect that he was unhurried also by principle. Tol loved his little farm, and he loved farming. It would have seemed to him a kind of sacrilege to rush through his work without getting the good of it.”
Perhaps the height of Sabbath is seeing even in our work the opportunity for rest, for play.
I wonder how different our lives, our country, our world would be if we considered it sacrilege to rush through work without getting the good of it. If we sought opportunities for play within everything we do.
We do, of course, live in a world full of brokenness and heartache. I do, truly, dream of the day when all tears will be wiped away. But I wonder oftentimes if even in the worthy pursuit of social justice or evangelism or whatever our focus might be, we forget that the very purpose of the freedom brought by Christ is so that all of us, every human, created in the image of God, might fulfill our primary purpose – to play, to enjoy, to delight.
Father Boyle writes of delight as a duty, "to be watchful for the hilarious and the heartwarming, the silly and the sublime. This way will not pass again, and so there is a duty to be mindful of that which delights and keeps joy at the center, distilled from all that happens to us in a day.”
So today I am tasking myself with putting an end to the restlessness that prevents engagement.
Putting an end to the restlessness that presumes there is someplace else I’d rather be.
Putting an end to viewing rest as a reprieve from life, from work.
And basking in the delight of God who turns even work into play.
“We breathe in the Spirit that delights in our being…And it works on us. Then we exhale (for that breath has to go somewhere) to breathe into the world this same Spirit of delight, confident that this is God’s only agenda.” Father Gregory Boyle