By David Williamson.
It is now June – summer is here, finally! Perhaps this year, the arrival is appreciated even more. Covid-19 and the closing of restaurants, gyms, retail stores, etc., began in March – the tail end of winter. There is lots of pent-up anticipation for summer and being outside, doing fun summer-like activities. It is starting to happen! A time to play!
I believe the biblical material about creation implies play. God completes God’s part of the creation on the sixth day – the creation, the establishment of everything “living,” culminating in the creation of humans, male and female, made in the divine image. God blesses the humans, commands them to be fruitful, to fill the earth and subdue it, and have all the rest of the natural world for sustenance. God looks at the created world and declares, “it is very good.” I imagine God stepping back, observing and saying “AHA,” “WOW,” “Wonder-full! This is VERY GOOD!”, taking a deep breath, and “resting” on the seventh day. Sabbath is a rest for remembering, honoring, celebrating what has been completed, and a renewing for all that is yet ahead. John’s account affirms God as the creator of life, and that life is the light of all people. The ultimate capstone of all creation is the incarnation, where God becomes human, from whom we received grace upon grace.
Did this include “play”? I think so – a declaration of “this is very good,” the blessing of a day of rest, “grace upon grace.” Play means facing things with a smile, and restoring energy for future work. The writer of Exodus instructs the people of God to “keep the Sabbath” as a day of solemn rest, holy to the Lord, a perpetual covenant – a sign, a remembrance, a celebration of the creator fashioning the world in six days, resting and refreshing himself.
Rest and refreshment can come in various ways that renew, give strength and energy for the work ahead. Good play for me is refreshing, renewing and energizing. The Sabbath is time for recognizing God’s generosity and creativity, and praising God that we are the beneficiaries as co-workers. Praise and play are closely related experiences. Skiing down a mountain, it is easy and natural to sing the doxology, or “To God be the Glory” or another favorite praise hymn. (Or “Help!” But that’s a subject for another day.) The benediction of a ski resort chaplain was: “Now unto him who is able to keep you from falling, and make you to stand without blemish” (Jude 24).
Play on the seventh day is a form of re-creation, which is the basic meaning of our word “recreation.” As we refresh and renew, we are given new energy for continuing our journey of co-creating with God, We are “re-creating” for the additional tasks God gives us to do.
And there is the related issue of rest. I am finally beginning to believe the medical reports on the importance of sleep. That’s another topic for another time.
In Deuteronomy, the context for the Sabbath rest is the Exodus and the reminder that they are free from the slave taskmasters. Compulsively working every day, seven days a week, is a reminder of the days of slavery from which we have been saved. Indeed, “workaholism” is a regression into a posture or lifestyle of slavery – very different from what we were created for, and more like what we were redeemed from. Constructive, refreshing rest, renewal and play energize and renew, reflecting the loving purpose of creation and of salvation.
What is play or “refreshment” for you? This could be very different based upon the work or activity of the other six (or five) days of the week. My work is indoors, mostly cerebral, engaged with people and with thinking, so play or refreshment for me involves physical activity, being outdoors, working with my hands and some solitude. For a construction worker, it might be more sedentary and social.
Caution: Just as workaholism can be very detrimental to your spiritual, emotional and relational well-being, so excessive play can be hedonism, making a god of play, substituting play for God.
What is your work, and what do you need for your own spiritual, emotional and physical refreshment and renewal? How do you make space for play, space for God’s grace and life-giving joy to fill your life and empower you to be God’s good worker?
“Morning has broken like the first morning……Praise for the singing, praise for the morning, praise for them springing fresh from the Word.” “Praise for the sweetness of the fresh garden, sprung in completeness where his feet pass…Mine is the sunlight, Mine is the morning, God’s recreation of the new day.” Eden saw play!