PLAYFULNESS (10/10, Blessing of the Trees)
I had not been studying spiritual direction long when my new spiritual director asked me what seemed to me a strange question. “What do you do for fun?” she asked.
“Not much,” I responded. Even when I was a kid, at least from about middle school age, I was all about productivity. I used to get exasperated with schoolmates who sauntered leisurely down the hall between classes with their friends. My pace was always a brisk speedwalk, usually with an open book in my hands, trying to eek out a paragraph while searching for a narrow passage to get past the living speedbumps in my way.
As an adult, I perfected my habit of multitasking, and spent the evenings helping my kids with their school homework and doing housework. Naturally, I found my spiritual director’s question puzzling. “Why do you ask?”
“Spiritual life is about more than just work,” she responded. “Where’s the blessed silliness of it?” That phrase, “blessed silliness” stuck with me, and I learned later that there was a reason for the linking of those two words. Our English word, “silly,” comes from the German word, “selig,” which means blessed, happy, or blissful. My spiritual director encouraged me to take up a hobby of some kind. “Well, ” I said thoughtfully, “I used to do needlepoint before I had kids. I guess I could take that up again.” What I was thinking was, “I could do it in front of the TV in the evenings; then I wouldn’t feel guilty for relaxing, because I would have something to show for my time.”
and before I leave, one last giftfrom The Blessing of the Trees
as I try to catch an image
of that unexpected, colorful leaf
as soon as my camera is in place
she teases me with a sudden game of keepaway
I swear it’s not the breeze
but that impish tree laughing
and I laugh too
then take my leave
with a reluctant and contented sigh
trailing gifts behind me
Yes, you heard correctly. I used to feel guilty for relaxing. Unless I was absolutely exhausted, I tried to be productive every moment of the day. But that small step of taking back up needlepoint is what eventually led to my rediscovering art, creativity and play in ways that have since been so instrumental in my life.
Children are the undisputed champions of play. We all knew how to play when we were children, but some of us need to relearn it as adults. I came by my own workaholism honestly, having been raised by a grandmother who was like Jack — all work and no play! She worked all day, every day, running a household that included her daughter and six grandchildren. I remember many times waking up at around midnight, getting up to go to the bathroom, and seeing her still at work in front of the TV with a needle in her hand and a basket of mending in front of her. I don’t think I ever saw her do anything just for her own enjoyment (unless you count running down to the lake to watch the sunset… and come to think of it, that DOES count!). But, Lord have mercy! Think of how much more joyful and grace-filled her life could have been if she had only learned (or actually, not forgotten) how to laugh!
Where’s the blessed silliness of it?
Productivity has its place and its benefits, but so does playfulness. For many people, myself included, work is stressful, especially when demands increase and hours lengthen. And chronic stress is corrosive to our bodies, minds and spirits. I once asked a doctor whether stress made a certain condition worse, and he just laughed and replied, “Stress makes everything worse.” “Indulging” in play, whatever form that takes for you, fosters creativity, a benefit that may even translate back to better problem solving at work! I will also say that letting ourselves be childlike and silly sometimes is good for keeping our ego from totally taking over. What a healthy thing it is to be able to laugh at yourself! (Thus my collage, Sometimes I Make Myself Laugh!) So, what is play for you? Why, anything you enjoy that is done just for the enjoyment of it!
So let me end with these questions for you: Where in your life do you find “blessed silliness”? And if you find yourself stressed and feeling out of balance, how can you enlarge and extend your own space for joyful play?
So finally we come to the conclusion of this series based on my poem, The Blessings of the Trees. Whether you’ve stuck with me from the beginning or joined us in the middle, I encourage you to take a peek back at the poem, and join me in gratitude for all that trees have to teach us.
Next post: God’s Big Book of Creation