After beginning this blog entry, the phrase, “at play in the fields of the Lord,” from Peter Matthiessen’s novel suddenly popped to mind. I think it has a Biblical source but don’t know which book or chapter it came from. If anyone remembers the source I’d love to have it.
|Spring Lizard Two Days Ago|
Long ago, when I was a much newer member of the Earth Now club, having arrived only five years earlier, I began to get the concept of play vs. work as interpreted by our local tribe. My family was of the mind that work was good and play was bad, i.e., unproductive, possibly out of control and therefore without value. I was by nature quite playful as are most young creatures. However, we were Baptists, a conservative evangelical denomination, and perhaps you’ve noticed that most evangelical church buildings are utilitarian boxes and that says a great deal about their stance toward play. I suppose the idea is to avoid such worldly expressions of pride and sensuality as beautiful architecture by making the unfortunate though unavoidable physical aspects of life bland and uninteresting. We were routinely indoctrinated with the concept that “this world is not my home, I’m just a passing through,” as the old spiritual says. Play is by essence pleasurable and pleasure creates a seductive attachment to this life and consequently to our ultimately damned world.
The moral problem with this anti-play philosophy is that it disables our hardwired ability to enjoy and we inevitably and naturally value whatever we enjoy. An inability to enjoy counters the ability to value and have faith in life. Ironically, all of the qualities that glue us to life are equally necessary for a bona fide relationship with our spiritual source. If we are alienated from our nature, we won’t have much appreciation for the source of that nature. We don’t learn to love just because the Bible tells us to. Philosophers and Theologians are inclined to forget their rank in relation to the Big Boss and assume that they actually know more than their maker does. The experience of existence is a reality not because of learned beliefs or reason but because of emotional investment in what feels right. In addition, just because the modern orthodoxy, of Scientific Materialism has replaced older religions as a dominant belief-system doesn’t mean that its approach isn’t equally misplaced arrogant. In most ways, it is as unnatural as the older religions. Nature will always trump philosophy. That’s why religion and philosophy have a history of going bad every time they attempt to go over Mother Nature’s head.
Play seems to be a fundamental expression of the life force. Close after food and sex would be play, which frequently is intertwined with the first two. All young creatures learn about their potential abilities and their species’ life essence via play. Play is a fundamental interaction with environment and fellow creatures. The more intelligent the animal the more playful it is and the longer playfulness will persist throughout its lifetime. I was raised to believe that playfulness was silly and childish, something to be suppressed until grown out of. But I was also taught that we human beings are made in the image of God, and as near as I can see God is the source of playfulness. Now I’m trying to bring it out of the lockbox I’ve hidden it in for safe keeping all these years because intertwined with play is creativity. God him/herself/theSelf must be playful and although there is much pain and struggle in the world, play is an antidote to defeat. Of course, I’m thinking of that natural playfulness that delights in discovery, appreciation and invention while skirting the edge of danger. There is also escapist play lived in denial or excessive indulgence but like any addiction it is based on the misuse and imbalance of a normal function.
I watch baby animals playing with boundless joy and sometimes wonder how it’s possible when in the wild, their future is doubtful and many of them will never make it through the gauntlet of perils all the way to adulthood yet in their window bit of time they explode into life with rambunctious faith. Paradoxically, misery is often the inspiration of great works of art and literature. How can that be? Perhaps the bitterness of pain and frustration make playfulness even sweeter and stronger by contrast. We all know that dark chocolate, French Roast Coffee, and hot chili are even more pleasurable because they have some bitterness or pain adding oomph to their pleasurable qualities, just as a few dissonant notes gives spice to a song. One of the gorgeous things about playfulness is that it comes from an original innocent part of being. It is spontaneous and fresh, and because of this, it is the necessary state for discovery and creation. A volcanic eruption, tornado or lightning strike doesn’t seem playful any more than does war and famine. Nevertheless, destruction seems to be part of the life game as well. After such destruction, life surges forward with even more gusto.
Yes, I can see that God is playing all the time, even when it seems dangerous to us. It isn’t a perfect world in the sense of painless and complete but in constant change. We are in the life game not as helpless pawns but in constant interaction with the cosmic gamer and ever co-creating the outcome. We are “at play in the fields of the Lord.”