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Advent – Third Sunday

December 15, 2019

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Scripture for Today

I’ve been chaplain to the volleyball team at St Catherine University this fall. Since I’ve never played a sport competitively, there is a lot that’s new to me.

When the women are in the gym, warming up and then playing a game, they’re absolutely intent on that and nothing else. I think of times when I’ve experienced that – not in sports, but in choir and theater performances – which also create a kind of group “flow state” in which the awareness of time is suspended and we’re completely absorbed in the game or the play or performance or the task.

Play is one of Peter Berger’s “signals of transcendence.” Those are five human characteristics that he discusses in his book, A Rumor of Angels, that point to a reality larger than ourselves. Play is about more than just having fun. It’s about our capacity to imagine an alternate reality. When we play a game, or put on a play, or perform a piece of music, we are doing that within a set of parameters and rules that we’ve set up and agreed to abide by. We’ve imagined a little world within our larger world. Why do we do this?

Berger says:

“Joy is play’s intention. When this intention is fully realized, in joyful play, the time structure of the playful universe takes on a very specific quality – namely, it becomes eternity…”

Play takes us out of time, in other words:

“All joy wills eternity – wills deep, deep eternity…It is this quality, which belongs to all joyful play, that explains the liberation and peace such play provides….”

The volleyball team spends many hours each week practicing, and it shows when they’re on the floor playing the game. I’m astonished at how they can act in concert to anticipate and block the ball coming over the net time and again without crashing into each other. They know where they’re supposed to be and whose job it is to hit the ball in any given area on the court because they’ve rehearsed this over and over. They don’t have to stop and analyze it each time, because they know it well enough to do it without thinking. When they’re on the court, totally absorbed in the game, that’s their world.

And that deep absorption in play has a quality of excellence: they are at play and bringing all their skill to the game. They want to win. But they want to win without reservation, in the most excellent way possible. That’s why they do things like go over to play on the other side of the net after each set. It’s a small thing, maybe even inconsequential, but they wouldn’t want there to be anything at all to suggest that one side or other had an unfair advantage, because then it wouldn’t have been done excellently.

That’s the holy thing about Play, the whole-hearted excellence. We can bring this quality to other things besides games, that is, we can approach many things we do as play. We can reimagine a lot of different kinds of situations so that they are done, or played for the peace and liberation of all if we ask, what is the most excellent, most liberating, most equitable, most peaceful way to do this? What will be best for the good of all? How do we need to change the rules – the space – the play – so that everyone can flourish?

And what are we waiting for?

—Baya Clare CSJ

Creator God, may we use our capacity to play and our gift of imagination for the peace and liberation of all, in everything we do. Amen.

Baya Clare


Find writers’ bios here.
Photographs by Theresa Ruttger. Graphic design by Baya Clare CSJ. Before copying or using any text or images from this site, please contact bayathread(at)gmail(dot)com for permission.
Some material on this site is adapted from Daily Prayer, Daily Bread, published by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille in 2004, and is used with the permission of the Editor and Project Director, Eleanor Bernstein CSJ.

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