The green shoebox of sidewalk chalk had been sitting untouched in our garage for years. I initially purchased it about a decade ago when I was a new parish pastor. There was a congregational event for young families coming up, and I was hosting it at my home. I got the chalk thinking the kids might enjoy doodling creations on the cement driveway. Since that event, the box has been hibernating in the garage.
A few weeks back, our neighbor Luciano hosted a "driveway concert." He’s a musician, and he invited everyone on the block to open their windows on a Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. Folks could also come outside to listen; Justin and I placed lawn chairs at the yard's edge.
As Luciano started playing his guitar and singing, I suddenly remembered the sidewalk chalk and got it out. I started coloring flowers and rainbows. My friend Noelle grabbed some chalk and began drawing several sidewalk squares down the way. A while later, some neighbors found the box and asked if they could have a few pieces of chalk to take back home to their sidewalks and driveways. We played with chalk as Luciano played his guitar. It felt fun to relax and create.
We are living through a challenging stretch — emotionally, spiritually and physically. Even in a pandemic, play remains an important component of a healthy life.
To play is to “employ oneself in diversion, amusement, or recreation.” Dr. Peter Gray, a professor at Boston College, in an interview with “The Journal of Play,” noted the qualities that researchers use in measuring play. He described true play as self-directed, intrinsically motivated, imaginative and conducted in an active but relatively unstressed frame of mind.
What has play looked like in your life lately?
For the initial stretch of this pandemic, I wondered how the seriousness of COVID-19 and the importance of play could exist simultaneously. I pondered, "Can we really do both?" "Can we imaginatively create while also responding with integrity to the crisis in which we’re operating?"
As weeks and now months have passed, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is quite imperative that we learn to do both: respond to the pandemic with integrity and play. They are not mutually exclusive.
As adults, in order to embrace a spirit of amusement regularly, we need to remind ourselves of two important truths: 1) Play is not exclusively for kids, and 2) it’s not a waste of time. Recreation is for everyone. According to David Elkin in his article “The Power of Play,” “free play remains vital to human health and creativity.”
This weekend, take time to make your own "play" list. Write down all the ways you can experience imaginative amusement: writing a poem, taking a Zoom coffee break with a friend, finding a box of crayons and coloring, cooking a new recipe, enjoying a round of Boggle, throwing a ball to your dog, getting out the old record player and dancing in the kitchen, photographing the bluebells, skipping rocks at the water’s edge. Keep your list handy, add to it when new ideas come to mind, and make use of the list every day.
Play doesn’t need to be limited to our personal lives. We can also explore ways to infuse a spirit of amusement into other realms of life. Many of the digital spaces in which we are spending vocational time these days are very scripted. There are meetings with agendas. We enter the Zoom gathering right as it starts and leave immediately when it ends (often to go to another digital meeting). There seem to be less spaces for humor, conversation and creative spontaneity.
I encourage you to be open to possibilities for play as staffs, teams and faith communities, too! Collective amusement strengthens the relationships we share.
Louisa May Alcott, author of "Little Women," once advised, “Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well.”
Please prioritize play, even and especially during this pandemic; it is a valid and vital use of time.
"Holy Everything" is a weekly column by Emily Carson. She is a Lutheran pastor serving at the Southeastern Minnesota Synod Office in Rochester. Visit her blog at emilyannecarson.com.