Joy and God’s Play

water fightWhat is life without being able to find joy? It’s easy to look around and find people who seem to have a difficult time finding joy in their lives. They’re either overly pessimistic, driven by fear, or are convinced humanity has no goodness. Others, understandably, find their joy sucked away because of pain, illness, or unhealthy relationships. But despite the challenges of human life, Ignatian spirituality always encourages us to find those places that are life- and joy-giving.

My wife and I are intentional about fostering joy in our lives. We make time for prayer together, conversation, short getaways, and even game nights. Anthony de Mello once shared this parable about the playfulness of spirituality:

The Master once referred to the Hindu notion that all creation is “leela”— God’s play—and the universe is his playground. The aim of spirituality, he claimed, is to make all life play.

This seemed too frivolous for a puritanical visitor. “Is there no room then for work?”

“Of course there is. But work becomes spiritual only when it is transformed into play.”

being sillyThose who are too serious in their lives might relegate games or play or imagination to the realm of children. Many of us lose our imaginational dexterity as adults. We stop playing games because we convince ourselves there are more important things to do. We forego even a staycation because we convince ourselves that our money is better spent on more important things. But is God not playful? God often surprises us with something that opens us up to the joy and playfulness of the Divine. These are God moments. A women I met recently told me about how several occasions of prayer in different places had been accompanied by hearing a mocking bird sing to her from outside. I myself have found moments where the lyrics of a song speak exactly to my needs of the moment. I often see the love of God in a dog bounding with joy or a child’s wonder in an acorn or a leaf. This is God’s joyful playfulness.

When I wake up some mornings to read about yet another attack or killing by a terrorist, I find myself wondering… Did that person ever play any games? Did he ever make room for simple joys in his life like cultivating hobbies or dancing? My guess is no. My guess is that there was little joy in that person’s life. Certain ideologies that convinced him that there were supposedly “more important things” drove him away from life’s joy and playfulness to a lack of appreciation of life. We see a lack of joy even in political parties and leaders who take themselves too seriously. We see religious people whose faith is less about joy and play and more about dividing the righteous from the unrighteous.

If, as Anthony de Mello proposes, the aim of spirituality “is to make all life play,” then why do we tend to dismiss it? Being silly or engaging your imagination or playing games is not only the domain of children, it’s the domain of all. Jesus was wise in saying that “unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven.” Becoming vulnerable enough to joyfully play in God’s playground is part of becoming humble like children. There are many, myself included, who can take themselves too seriously. Rather, we need to transform our lives to cultivate joy, turn work into play, and live lives that bring God’s joyfulness to others.

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