Nurturing the Spirit with Play

Nurturing the Spirit with Play



“The Spirituality of Play” was the title of the sermon given by the Reverend Jennifer Slade at last week’s service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry, Illinois. Spirituality/Play/Sermon? These three words may not seem to quite fit together.


But the sermon, mind you, was only partly spoken. The rest was sung—yes, Broadway show tunes, including “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music and a wonderful song from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, with Rev. Slade leaned against the piano in a perfect imitation of the love struck Lucy, singing to the intense and indifferent Schroeder.


The message was to fill your life with joy, to step outside the box, to take risks, to not worry about what others may think.


Rev. Slade truly walked the walk.


Play can take so many forms, from building a sand castle with your daughter on the edge of the beach, packing the wet sand into buckets, to competing in a strenuous sport that pushes your body past what you thought was its limit, to allowing yourself to create something, anything: music, poetry, food, an idea, a class, a community.


Much has been written about the healing power of laughter and of music and of art. There are art therapy classes and music therapy classes; there are even laughter workshops because people seem to have forgotten how to laugh!


There are therapeutic riding centers where physically, mentally, or emotionally challenged persons can find joy on the back of a horse. Trained dogs (and in some places, miniature horses) visit the elderly in nursing homes, the sick in hospitals, spreading joy, taking one out of oneself for awhile.


And this is the essence of play: losing oneself in moments of happiness.


But, you may be saying, what does any of this have to do with spirituality?


Here is what the 14th century Sufi mystic Hafiz said on the subject:



What is laughter? What is laughter?
It is God waking up! O it is God waking up!
It is the sun poking its sweet head out
From behind a cloud
You have been carrying too long,
Veiling your eyes and heart.

It is Light breaking ground for a great Structure
That is your Real body – called Truth.

It is happiness applauding itself and then taking flight
To embrace everyone and everything in this world.

Laughter is the polestar
Held in the sky by our Beloved,
Who eternally says,

“Yes, dear ones, come this way,
Come this way towards Me and Love!

Come with your tender mouths moving
And your beautiful tongues conducting songs
And with your movements – your magic movements
Of hands and feet and glands and cells – Dancing!

Know that to God’s Eye,
All movement is a Wondrous Language,
And Music – such exquisite, wild Music!”

O what is laughter, Hafiz?
What is this precious love and laughter
Budding in our hearts?

It is the glorious sound
Of a soul waking up!



Play indeed nourishes the soul. How will you invite more play, more laughter, more joy into your life?


 I hope you will be moved to share your thoughts.

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2 Replies to “Nurturing the Spirit with Play”

  1. Hi Pam,

    What a fabulous, uplifting and critically important post! I had to laugh when I visualized the pastor at your Unitarian Church leaning against the piano in her best imitation of Lucy from the Peanuts cartoon. Play and laughter are indeed gifts from the Divine, as Hafiz so eloquently points out. We are in the most danger when we forget how to use those gifts or they dry up from lack of use. It really is kind of sad that we now have to offer workshops on laughter and play because we’ve forgotten “how” to do either.

    I’m wondering if it’s not so much that we’ve “forgotten” but that as a society we’ve decided that making a living and surviving in a supposedly highly competitive, predatory world is serious business: playing and having fun aren’t appropriate uses of our time, so we’ve suppressed those activities. (Maybe we should be exorcising the old Puritan mental tapes from our psyches!) We only have to look at the ridiculously long work hours many people are expected to work (or forced to work just to make ends meet), the tendency to incorrectly perceive workaholism as a badge of honour and the high levels of burn-out and stress to know that all work and no play is bad for the body and spirit and unsustainable in the long run. Sorry–I went on a bit of a rant here.

    The bigger picture for me is that in order to shape a future human presence on the planet that is socially just, environmentally sustainable, and spiritually fulfilling, we need to make feeding our souls a priority now. And for the soul, play and laughter (along with lots of good quality organic, fair trade dark chocolate) is indeed the food of and from the gods. Let the play go on!

  2. Thank you for your rant, Sue! I agree that our workaholic culture is in large part to blame, but we need to remember that we created our culture.

    Play enables us to think outside the box, but we have to be willing to take that first, scary step to set the process in motion.

    And so let us begin, one laugh at a time, one dance, one song, one silly story.

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