Being Free to Play in the Mud

I took a much needed vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota this past weekend. Located a mere 5 hours away, it has a wonderful combination of eclectic shops, tourist attractions, and outdoor activities. I’m already keen to go back. The Songbird Cafe is Custer, SD was an especially nice find. The ambiance was brilliant, and I got to hear the music of John Smith while sipping a latte. I decided to have my trip be largely unplanned so I could explore, and do so at a slow pace. The Bandlands were quite a visually diverse, and muddy, as it had rained earlier that day. While driving through (lots of driving in that park), I stopped at a hilly portion that looked quite cool. I stood on the edge, and felt the urge to head down into the valley. There were some kids nearby, and not wanting to set a bad example and have the kids follow me down (following their instincts, perhaps), I waited. After the car left, I quickly descended, and kept going for several minutes, tempted to go further and further. It was then that it occured to me just it was really muddy, and that I was playing in the mud in a sense, and, well, smiling and having fun playing. My adult side soon took over reminding me that no one knew where I was, and should a wild animal or snake bite me, no one would be the wiser, so I climbed back up.

All at once, I reflect on the writings of Madeleine L’Engle and G.K. Chesterton and others who contrast child-like imagination and frivolousness with adult reality and seriousness, and question whether the former isn’t the more meaningful of the two. I recall a statement about how the Western (Protestant) work ethic can sometimes make us, as Christians, take this life a little too seriously. Work and productivity can themselves be a drug, and like any addiction, there is a point of diminishing returns. Rest and play, such as are part of the Sabbath, are rejuvinating, and more than that, are commanded. How easy is it to lose site of that? I just started reading Moltmann’s Theology of Play. Right at the beginning:

To be happy, to enjoy ourselves, we must above all be free. But such freedom has grown scarce. We enjoy ourselves, we laugh, when our burdens are removed, when fetters are falling, pressures yield and obstructions give way. Then our hearts leap within us and we suddenly find it easy to cope with other men and circumstances…But how can we laugh, how can we rejoice without care, when we are worried, depressed, and tortured by the state of the world we live? (Moltmann, 1)

We have many freedoms in the West, freedoms I am personally thankful for. Right now, I’m wondering what it means to be free. Maybe that’s why Jesus failed to be the Messiah that the people wanted. Maybe He had a different definition of freedom…

Moltmann, Jurgen. Theology of Play. New York: Harper & Row. 1972.