Out in the spring sunshine with my girl, flat on my back on the warm trampoline after bounce-running together in a circle while singing A Thousand Years, throwing in our very own dance move actions on various words!
I don’t often play. I’m not very good at it (I’ve told myself for almost eight years). Sure: I can read bedtime stories with expression; I can go for happy walks hand in hand; I can bake with her; we can talk and talk about everything; I can watch her play. But playing myself has never been my forte.
This may sound strange, but it feels like such an effort to me. A physical effort, yes, because it usually involves crawling around on the floor, or jumping, running, dancing... moving, basically! But it’s more the mental and emotional effort that I resist expending – the effort that it takes to leave behind my o-so-serious adult world with its concerns and agendas and schedules, and just... play.
I do try... I have tried regularly for the eight years of her joy-filled, playful life. And I HAVE played – because I love her, and because I’ve felt guilty, and because I’ve wanted to be better at it. But there is always so much TRYING, so much EFFORT involved. And, however hard I TRY, it often just makes me feel tired and grumpy, and that’s not much fun for either of us.
How sad – to find it such a struggle to play.
But it goes far deeper than childrearing, this struggle.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the many different ways that I, perversely, resist the Life I profess to long for. I never really noticed this before so even seeing this strange pattern feels, though painful at times, like a gift and a sign of change on the horizon. I see now that so many of the things I do are subtly or not so subtly saying “No” to Life – to pleasure, joy, excitement, love, gratitude and delight. And because my gift of a girl is so jam-packed full of all these things, I notice my “No” most often with her, whether it’s the seemingly constant, verbalised “No” to the constant excited requests, or just my internal “No” – my fearful, or perhaps shame-filled, resistance to Life in all its Fullness.
Actually noticing this internal resistance has made me want to run into each day shouting “Yes!” to Life. And it’s made me want to play more... and laugh more... and love more... and create more:
“Art involves one in a recovery of childhood... The fear of pleasure is a deeply held political issue, and the creative person is out in front insisting that ecstasy and pleasure are what life is about--but everyone's pleasure, not one's own private pleasure.” (Matthew Fox)
I can feel it – my fear of pleasure – but I cannot comprehend it. Do I fear its power, and what it might mean or where it might take me if I follow it? Do I fear the pain and disappointment that cannot be avoided if one dives into life head first, wildly abandoned? Or is it that I feel undeserving of, or unfit for, true, deep joy? Or, in some unfathomable way, does the pointless, unproductive, childish nature of joy and play and pleasure offend my misguided ego?
If so, I want to offend my ego. It’s time to PLAY!!
So here I find myself playing outside with Amélie, being told to lie flat on my back as if dead in the centre of the trampoline, eyes closed, so that we can play ‘Dead Man’, a game I have never heard of. Thankfully, she seems to have noticed I am a woman and so changes the words that she chants as she bounces around me:
“Dead woman, dead woman, come alive!”
I lie stock still, taken aback by the profoundly prophetic nature of the words being spoken over me in play.
There are so many ways in which I have been dead, lifeless and barren; asleep, unresponsive. And these words – “out of the mouth of babes” – have the smell of the Spirit about them; they are words whispered to my very soul and words I’ve heard echoes of already in recent weeks, as I live and write and pray.
So I play dead, and I try to open my ears and heart to these words as wide as I can, and to say “Yes!” to this call:
“Dead woman, dead woman, come alive!”
And after the count to five and the final command to “Come alive,” I rise to my feet as instructed, eyes still closed, and feel around blindly for her, following her giggles and the bend of the trampoline under her feet. This, too, I know to be true: though I am blind and uncomprehending and wildly searching for the way forward into life, I have been CALLED; and Fullness of Life is beckoning me, close at hand, right at my fingertips, sometimes just out of reach but waiting, longing to be caught.
I can learn to say an unequivocal “Yes!” to Life, because Life says an unequivocal “Yes!” to me.
My blind groping meets a warm body and generates another squeal.
And then I catch her, and we cling to each other laughing and fall down in a happy heap.