Guenther: Holy Play
“Often what we call ‘play’ is competitive or compulsive, because the aesthetic dimension of true play, its holy uselessness, goes against our grain.” —Margaret Guenther in Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction (Cowley, 1992).
Holy uselessness. What a grand term for those of us who are driven. When I think of holy play, I think of just sitting, not reading or knitting or thinking about my to do list—just sitting. (Some friends this morning reminded me that they did not want to be on my to do list.) Holy listening, holy uselessness can entail just looking outside my window, watching a breeze come and go, or changing my horizon. Many learn to practice holy uselessness as they look out over bodies of water or mountains that call to us as icons to see through them—or perhaps hear through them as a connection to God. Nature changes the synapses, the pathways in our brains. Immersing ourselves in its peace slows down the cerebral traffic.
Others find holy uselessness listening to music or playing an instrument. Instead of light waves we experience sound waves like soft, free-floating harmonic speed bumps, slowing down the traffic jam in our head to two to five miles an hour.
Just sitting down on the floor with a young child can become holy uselessness, as you try to keep up with the child and follow his or her lead. In this way we can become connected so easily to the Christ Child in another, and to the Christ Child within ourselves. At your next family dinner, volunteer to sit at the youth or children’s table and just listen. You will find a whole new world, and it will be much more fun.
We usually do not put “practice holy uselessness” on our to do list. The best part of holy playtime is that we can follow this spiritual practice anywhere, any time. It can change our life.
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