Play (23 Oct 2016)

On 22 October 2016, we had our BCK Graduation and Concert with joyful children completing their learning journey at Bethesda Chapel. This June when we climbed up a bridge in Cebu and looked down, we saw children happily playing underneath the bridge. They were just kicking a ball, nothing sophisticated. I recalled the times when I was a little girl playing chatek, five stones, or hantam bola in the field next to our attap house. It also reminded me of And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets (Zech 8:5).

What has play got to do with our normal Christian life? In a current course, Christian Ethics, with BGST, we discussed play and weekend pastimes. When Christians lose their ability to play, their interest to play, they are moving away from, rather than toward ‘becoming like a child’ so they may inherit the kingdom of God.

I wonder whether it is possible…to regain the idea of the Church as providing an understanding of the area of freedom (art, friendship, play..). Who is there…in our times who can devote himself with an easy mind to music, friendship, games, or happiness?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from prison, Jan 23, 1944.

Play, in a sense mirror life. Running, something I have done for 3 decades is indeed rather like life and faith: fight the good fight, run the race, and finish (2 Tim 4:7). Games are not just morality plays that reveal the character of the players but also the character of the spectators.

An interesting point about play is that it shares something in common with God’s creation (Moltmann, A theology of play). Unlike eating and rest, play is not a necessity of life as one can exist without play. However, human beings were not made to just exist, but are created in God’s image to worship Him and to emulate his actions. Is God ‘playful’? What kind of God makes the funny ostrich, giraffe and platypus? Play can also reveal the justice and fairness of God as well. For example, fans of a certain underdog team who finally won remarked ‘There is a God.’

There is a different kind of play we need to talk about – plays, playing music, and dancing.

Music in worship is to help us all be caught up in love and wonder and praise of God. Music, the fine arts, make us reflect on the nature of beauty and harmony. Play fills us with the spirit of joy and delight that carries over into all aspects of our existence.

Another aspect is the religious dimension of play. Christians should live in light of the future, of the eschatological situation, while living now in spontaneous joy. C.S. Lewis suggests that God can use play to open people up, and reach and commune with them. This includes in and through the playing of music. Singing and dancing were a part of celebrating good things (I Sam 18:6-7; Exo 15:20-21).

Play of all sorts is rightly seen as a celebration of life lived to its fullest and its highest. As Motlmann puts it, play anticipates the joy of the eschaton where all manner of drudgery and disease and decay and death will be left behind. It is also something that has the potential to unite us. So, brothers and sisters, let us play on.


Deacon Dr Vivien Ler