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Holy playfulness

Play allows us to praise God, celebrate hope, APCE speakers say

February 8, 2013

ORLANDO, Fla.

With 10 exclamation points, Psalm 148 is a fitting piece of Scripture for this year’s Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) annual event — the theme of which is “Let us play.”

APCE is a professional organization for educators in the Reformed tradition in the United States and Canada. This year’s annual event runs Feb. 6-9.

“Young men and women alike, old and young together! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven,” reads Psalm 148: 12-13.

It can be hard to celebrate and play in the midst of hurtful church politics or when grieving the loss of a friend, said the Rev. Michelle Thomas-Bush, associate pastor for youth and their families at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in North Carolina and worship leader for the event.

Thomas-Bush spoke of a mission trip to Costa Rica she led. One of the youth had been battling depression and had to be urged to go on the trip, then to join the group on a zip lining outing. When she finally let go and went on the zip line, she truly laughed.

“Sometimes there’s nothing you can do but play,” Thomas-Bush said Feb. 6. “You let down your guard. You play.

“Play is something that is hard to describe,” she said. “You know it when you’re in it.”

Some say play is a diversion, but play is actually an expression of life. It starts from birth, and we naturally respond to it — we are reminded of this on the first spring day of the year.

Holy playfulness is the conscious decision to believe that God desires a better world for us — and so we have to give praise. Play is a fitting response to God, who calls us as God’s own and gives us room to move in spite of who we are.

Play allows us to “connect to God in a deep, real and abundant way,” Thomas-Bush said.

Play also helps us see God anew, said the Rev. Jaco Hamman, professor of religion, psychology and culture at Vanderbilt Divinity School and the event’s keynote speaker.

“Playful people are people who know that they have not yet discovered God fully,” Hamman said.

Play is related to two theologies: promise and blessing, he said. Play helps us live healthy lives because it is a transformative blessing.

“A full life is impossible without play,” Hamman said. “If you are not playful — even if you are faithful — you may not have a full life.”

Play gives us hope — both require imagination. Play also creates space inside of us and allows for creativity and problem solving.

“Play teaches problem solving more than any other dynamic I know of,” Hamman said.

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