This is a web-exclusive article on the theme “Lent: repentance and transcendence.” For more stories on this theme, see the March issue of The Mennonite.
A few years ago, I hosted a series on my blog Godspace entitled “Stop Playing Games During Lent.” Lent is a serious season of reflection, repentance and liberation from habits that are life draining rather than life gaining. Halfway through Lent, I had to repent. My journey had taken an unexpected turn. I was learning about the importance of play. The place to start if we really want to join God’s creative work of restoration is not with more disciplines or more denial but with more time for fun and creativity.
Nothing lights up the brain like play, according to psychiatrist Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, who studies the effects of play on people and animals. He says play is as important as oxygen for our well-being. Adult play buffers us against the burnout of the hustle and bustle of busyness (Scientific American Mind, Spring 2017, The Mad Science of Creativity, 83). And from my perspective anything that lights up the brain to that extent must be important to God.
Play may be God’s greatest gift to humanity. It’s how we form friendships, learn skills and master difficult things that help us survive. It’s a release valve for stress and an outlet for creativity. It helps us heal and opens us to wonder. It brings us music, comedy, dance and everything we value. Above all, play is how we bond with each other in nonthreatening, barrier-breaking ways. It’s how we communicate “I am safe to be around. I am not a threat.” When we play well together, we replace negative beliefs and behaviors with positive thoughts and actions and heal emotional wounds. It is meant to be an important part of our spiritual practices, too.
Embracing playfulness in our spiritual practices unveils glimpses into the heart of our fun-loving, playful God and into the joy-filled personalities God wants us to grow into. Play bonds us with God and each other. It buffers us from the spiritual burnout so rampant in our faith communities. It liberates us to be ourselves and invites us to relax, take notice and be unafraid to be vulnerable. I am convinced it is an essential but neglected element for the survival of a healthy relationship with God and each other.
Here are some suggestions that can help unleash our inner child:
Go on a play date each week. Have some fun. Visit your favorite museum or art gallery. Take a ferry ride, visit the children’s playground and get on the swings. Give up self-denial for Lent.
Create a doodle each week. This may not sound spiritual but can become a powerful spiritual discipline. I think God loves to doodle. I only need to look down from a plane at the meandering pattern of a river to see that.
Before you doodle, ask yourself a question like, How could God use me as an instrument of reconciliation during Lent? Prayerfully close your eyes, doodle with your nondominant hand for 30 seconds, open your eyes and reflect on the image. Repeat your question. Ask God to speak to you. Add to the image with colored pencils or crayons, allow God to shape it into a meaningful shape. Pause after a minute of coloring and repeat your question. Write down what you sense God saying. Keep the image on your desk or in journal and continue to add to it over the week.
Lectio Divina is a particularly fertile practice to stir imagination and creativity, especially when combined with creative acts such as drawing, writing or singing. Prayerfully read a Scripture verse several times until a word resonates in your soul. Meditate on the word and allow God to take you deeper into its meaning. I like to paint my words on rocks, then decorate them and place them in small contemplative gardens for further revelation. It’s great fun and inspirational. You may want to write your word in a journal and allow it to form a poem or song in your soul. A dance may stir within you. Whatever expression you are drawn to, allow the Spirit of God to mature it.
Visio Divina, the art of divine seeing, is another great Lenten practice. You can apply it to any image, but it’s most fun and inspirational for this season to use it as you walk. Treat everything around you as though it has a newness and freshness to it. Be alert to the newness Christ brings to each mundane object, moment or encounter. Notice the graffiti on the walls, streets signs, advertisements, fallen leaves or sunshine through trees. Take a photo of what catches your attention. Perhaps it makes you laugh or brings you to tears. Take it home and reflect on it. What is God saying to you about your neighborhood? Is there a way God asks you to respond?
Find happiness in the small things. So often we get caught up in unrealistic expectations. By focusing on our own ideas of what should happen we often put the Holy Spirit in a box that restricts what God is able to do. Our senses, which make us aware of the fragrance of a rose and the sound or a children laughing, seem small and insignificant, but through these we often are made aware of the intimate presence of God. Our senses make it possible for us to move beyond our disappointments and the sadness and pain of life.
I hope that you will allow God to liberate your creativity during Lent this year and find the freedom of fresh expressions of faith and new depths of spirituality.
Christine Aroney-Sine facilitates the contemplative blog Godspace. In her new book, The Gift of Wonder (InterVarsity Press, March 2019), she explores characteristics such as play, curiosity and imagination.
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