"Let Us Play... Um,...Pray"
Here's what I particularly like about the Summer: we give ourselves a break from our routines, we relax a little; we walk outside after dinner; we eat ice cream. You might occasionally fall asleep outside in the afternoon, or read a book with, let's say, less social implication than you would in the winter. You take time off.
So I wondered if something similar should happen with our prayer practice during the lazy, hazy days of summer. Should we shed our prayer routines along with our long pants and sweaters? I can remember admonitions from long ago that said God didn't go on vacation in the summer so we shouldn't either. Of course, at Prayer Soup, our experience of prayer is a very wide net so it includes peace of mind, random acts of kindness, and creative ideas, which makes the summer a very good setting for those forms of prayer. And I like the idea that this wide net can include play.
In her book, Holy Listening, The Art of Spiritual Direction, the Episcopal priest Margaret Guenther talks about the connection between the words "play" and "pray" and notes that her keyboard often reminds her of this connection when she inadvertently writes, "I should play about this"!
Of course, this may be a bit tricky for those of us who find "playing" hard work! Nothing is harder for an adult to pull off than someone's command that they "lighten up", much less that they "go out and play". And yet, Guenther, crediting the German poet and playwright Friedrich Schiller, points out that "the human being is completely human only at play". Now there is a sobering thought!
So perhaps that's what makes the summer the perfect time to take a closer look at our relationship with prayer, whatever form it takes. Watching the 4 year old in my family, I quite agree with Guenther that "play is both intense and liberating". Play is serious business to children, filled with unrelenting curiosity and concentration; it's easy to see children get lost in their play and to feel joyful when doing it. Actually, this applies to adults who play as well; I'm thinking of my trip to the beach this summer and watching the adults of all ages play in the ocean and with each other.
One of the reasons that summer is so popular (okay, excepting that often impossible heat), is because it is a time when we allow ourselves to take a break from the usual standards we set for ourselves the rest of the year. Why wouldn't we give ourselves the same break from our prayer routine? If you consider freeing yourself from perfection in prayer, from doing it right, from getting answers from it, what would it look like?
One of our favorite essays from the scholarship contest this year was written by Heleena K, a high school senior from Tennessee. We loved this essay because of the joy that leapt off the page. At one point, Heleena worries that "prayer is no laughing matter", but our judges disagreed. The laughter generated by Heleena and her friends during their prayer experience was created by them jumping into a new way of prayer, the way they may have done from a raft in a pond. They held hands, closed their eyes and jumped. They came up laughing, exhilarated from the unexpected experience and the joy of sharing it with each other. We felt it was a perfect essay to publish during the summer and you will find it in the Food for Thought section of the website.
Play a little with your prayer experience this summer; you may find something quite marvelous that will survive and go with you when the summer fades, and the expectations and obligations of our regular life return. Try playing with your praying!