playfulness as a sacrament


My spiritual director and I met today for our regular confab.  I was explaining that in the monastery I learned to be the priest I had always hoped I would be; and that at the farm I learned to be the monk I had always hoped I would be.  In the work I did in New Hampshire I learned to be the man I always hoped I would be and in the transition to my life here, I learned to have the integrity I had alway hoped I would have.  So what have I come to Denver to learn?

The conclusion we came to was clear, if surprising.  I have come to Denver to learn to be the child I was never allowed to be. I do not mean that I am going to be a child, but that I am going to learn how to play and trust as a child does.

Growing up as the child of alcoholics, one must be an adult too young.  Add to that, having come from a family whose prime directive was to impress, and you have a problem on your hands.  And so it is not surprising that I am a 3 on the Eniagram ( and that playfulness has never been my strong suit.

It occurred to us as we talked that fundamental to playfulness is trust.  It occurs to me that “impressive” children are a bit creepy and that what is so wonderful about children is that they exchange being impressive for being present.  Children wonder, wander, explore, delight, and engage in activities which only make sense if this moment – this present moment – is the only important thing.

Of course, naiveté is not helpful.  One must be aware that there are people out there with evils about and within them. That is not the same as saying that there are evil people out there.  There are no evil people.  In fact there is nothing evil.  There are just evils.  Evil’s head was crushed by the boot-heel of the Resurrection.  But the tail of the EVIL snake still thrashes about causing damage (Augustine’s image.)

One must not be so absorbed by the present moment that one cannot see a little-evil lurking in the shadows; and evils in the church are the worst, simply because the mask of tapestries is so hard to see past.  But on the other hand, the hyper-vigilance and paranoia of fear will so ready one to see evils that playfulness can sadly be burned out of life like dross ( from a furnace of metal.

I am finally among co-workers and friends who inspire trust in me.   I finally am able to chose them (which is the greater indication of conversion.) It is like being washed up on a beach after a shipwreck.  I am aware that the church is in the midst of a storm which will sink all but the most sturdy naves (“nave” comes from the terms used for the hull of a ship which is why church ceilings so often look like the hull of a ship) and I no longer worry about that.  What I learned in New Hampshire is that the tiny churches are tiny for a reason, and their death in 15 years will be a relief to the system.  But it is wonderful to be in a diocese and church in which I feel trust so deeply and in which that trust may begin to birth play.

One night after a nearly weekly night of laughter and joy with my friends, I was on my way to my car with my friend, Rebecca and we came across a tree by the road with a door in it.  I noticed it out of the corner of my eye and asked about it.  Rebecca, with her characteristic joyfulness lunched for it and opened it.  Inside was a small speaker which played music – just for fun.  We burst out laughing.

I am aware that part of my job is to preach the complexities of the spiritual and religious life.  But I also want to live a life which sees and opens little doors in tree trunks, only to find music.  And then, to that music, I hope to dance.

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