My Lenten theme this year is Breaking Down Walls. I was not just thinking of the controversy about the wall on the U.S/Mexican border when I chose this topic. All of us have walls in our lives, products of our own brokenness and often too, of our responses to the brokenness of others. These walls separate us from the one true God, from each other and from God’s creation.
Jesus is the one who is able to break down the walls and open the barriers that keep us closed off, but we often don’t know how to access His healing power to make the walls crumble. Lent is a great season for working on our walls yet some of the tools we need are not always what first come to mind. To join God’s creative work of restoration, we don’t need more disciplines or more denial, we need 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. He believes play is as important as oxygen for our wellbeing.1 Adult play buffers us against the burn out of the hustle and bustle of busyness.2 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 is a release valve for stress, and an outlet for creativity. It helps us heal and opens us to wonder and awe. It brings us music, comedy, dance, and everything we value. Above all, play is how we form bond with each other in non threatening barrier breaking ways. It’s how we communicate “I am safe to be around, I am not a threat.”3 When we play well together we replace negative beliefs and behaviors with positive thoughts and actions and heal emotional wounds. It is, I suspect, 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 to 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 to God and to each other.
Here are some suggestions that can help unleash your inner child.
Go on a play date each week. Have some fun. Visit your favorite museum or art gallery, get on a ferry, play with kids. Give up self denial for Lent.
Create a doodle each week. This may not sound very 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 non dominant hand for about 30 seconds, open your eyes and reflect on the image. Repeat your question. Ask God to speak to you. Color your image with pencils or crayons. Invite God to shape it into something meaningful. Pause after a minute of coloring and repeat your question. Write down what you sense God is saying. Keep the image on your desk or journal and continue to add to it over the week.
Practice Lectio Divina. This is a particularly fertile practice to stir imagination and creativity, especially when combined with creative acts like drawing, writing or singing. Prayerfully recite 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 is great fun and incredibly inspirational. You may like to write your word in a journal or craft it into a poem or song. Even a dance may stir within you. Feel free to express your word however God prompts.
Practice Visio Divina. This art of divine seeing is like Lectio Divina with images. You can apply paintings or photos but most fun and inspirational for this season is to use it as you walk. Pretend you see everything for the first time. Be alert to the newness that 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 your photo home and reflect on it. What is God saying to you about your neighborhood? Is there a new way God wants 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 that make us aware of the fragrance of a rose and the sound or a children laughing seem small and insignificant but it is often through these that we 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 popular contemplative blog Godspace. In her new book The Gift of Wonder (IVP March 2019) she explores characteristics like play, curiosity and imagination that shape us into the people God intends us to be.
Together with her husband, Tom, she is also co-Founder of Mustard Seed Associates but recently retired to make time available for writing and speaking. In a former life, Christine trained as a physician in Australia practiced in New Zealand and developed and directed the healthcare ministry for Mercy Ships._
1 TED Talks. (May 2008). Play is more than just fun. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital
2 Scientific American Mind. (Spring 2017) The Mad Science of Creativity, 83
3 beyourself, Medium. (Oct 3, 2017) Mass Shootings in America, and Why Men (and Boys) Keep Doing This. Retrieved from https://byrslf.co/thoughts-on-the-vegas-shooting-14af397cee2c