Spirituality

On the Seventh Day, God Played

It’s summer here in the northern climes—and summer means the swimming pool.

Last weekend, I stretched out on a deck chair at the local public pool and spent a few hours in the splash zone. Kids were squealing in delight. Ungainly games of Marco Polo were played with a group of 25 or more. Spontaneous rounds of “keep the beach ball up in the air” formed and faded. Toddlers, in their bright yellow and blue baby floats, grinned, splashed, and waggled their fat little legs.

Play. We all say we love it. But the truth is many of us don’t do it.

Work is getting in the way of our play time. As work hours increase and more people “check in” with work during their days off—or work multiple part-time jobs with no days off—exhaustion levels are up. Americans spend half our “leisure time” collapsed in front of the TV. And, unless we are savvy TV consumers, end up wearier than we started.

The new neuroscience indicates that play is a basic biological process in animals and humans. Along with sex, hunger, and “fight or flight,” play is hardwired in us to keep our neurons adaptable and growing. It’s also the foundation of “civilization”—art, creativity, innovation, literature, music, theater, and complex social relationships.

According to Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, there are seven properties that identify play: It is done for its own sake, voluntary, has an inherent attraction, and involves freedom from time, diminished self-consciousness, improvisational potential, and the desire to keep doing it.

Brown has studied animal play behavior, developed “play histories” for humans, researched how lack of play may contribute to anti-social behavior, and most important, examined how play fuels brain growth and flexibilit across a lifetime.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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Tempted by an Apple

’Tis the gift to be simple,
’tis the gift to be free,
’Tis the gift to come down
where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves
in the place just right,
’Twill be in the valley of love
and delight.

Elder Joseph Brackett penned these words to his famous Shaker dance song in 1848. They captured a way of life of a people who found joy in simplicity.

It has taken the near collapse of our economy to help us remember the truth of these words and to finally wake from a stupor in which we found ourselves addicted to consumption. Even most Christians (both good liberals and good conservatives) had subconsciously adopted a life mission captured by a single word: MORE (and its siblings “bigger,” “better,” and “cooler”).

My own persistent struggle with this was exemplified by my desire for the original iPhone. My old phone was nearing the end of its useful life, and I had been waiting anxiously for Apple’s new phone—it was smarter, better, and cooler than my old not-so-smart phone.

I went to the Apple Store on the day the new iPhone came out. I spent nearly an hour there trying to convince myself that Jesus needed me to buy an iPhone. With a battle raging in my heart and mind over whether I should plunk down $400 for this new phone, I walked to the counter. “Tell me once more about the iPhone’s features,” I begged. Finally I handed the clerk my credit card. And then it happened: My credit card was refused! This should have been impossible. I have great credit and the card is paid off monthly. Perhaps Jesus didn’t need me to have an iPhone after all! The clerk asked if I wanted to try another card. “No!” I replied and quickly left the store with a tremendous sense of relief.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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What Sustains Me

Let Jesus Love You, by Tony Campolo

I try to start each day by setting aside about 20 minutes for centering prayer. I empty my mind of the 101 things that are apt to start spinning in my head the moment I wake up. Then, focusing on Jesus, I let him love me. I wait to feel myself enveloped by his presence. I silently yield to being saturated by his Spirit. In my morning prayers, I say nothing to God and I hear no words from God. But in these times of “waiting upon the Lord,” my spiritual strength is renewed.

Secondly, at the end of each day I practice the Ignatian prayer of examen. Lying in bed I reflect on all the good and God-honoring things that I did during the day and thank God for allowing me to be an instrument of love and peace. Following Philippians 4:8, I remember whatever I did that was true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. Only then, after such affirmation, am I prepared to review the day a second time, recalling everything I said that was hurtful to others and fell short of God’s will. In accord with what I read in 1 John 1:9, I ask not only for God’s forgiveness, but also for God’s cleansing. I ask Christ to reach out from Calvary, across time and space, and absorb out of me the sin and darkness that accumulated within me during the day.

I believe that because the Holy Spirit is holy, the Holy Spirit is frustrated coming to dwell in dirty temples. Thus, Christ’s cleansing of my temple at the end of the day is a requisite for receiving the infilling of Christ’s Spirit during centering prayer the next morning. Without Christ’s Spirit in me, I lose heart and lack the energy to do justice and evangelism.

Tony Campolo, professor emeritus at Eastern University, is founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education.

Open Yourself to Community, by Soong-Chan Rah

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Sojourners Magazine July 2009
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