Play Needs No Purpose

Wednesday, October 21, 2015 - 4:39 am

Play Needs No Purpose

Remember when all the best “futurists” assured us that technology would reduce everyone’s workload, leaving us with a lot more time for play? Well, I have a word for those false prophets: NOT!

Every day I struggle to resist the siren call of work that comes via my computer and my smart phone, trying to protect time for such simple stuff as reading a novel, walking in the woods, or joking and jiving with friends. Every day I have to re-learn the old lesson, “All work and no play makes Jack — or Parker — a dull boy.” I may have a smartphone, but my phone has a dumb owner!

That’s why I love this wry meditation from Br. David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk with a Ph.D. in experimental psychology who’s the co-founder of A Network for Grateful Living:

“Play needs no purpose. That is why play can go on and on as long as players find it meaningful. After all, we do not dance in order to get somewhere. We need this kind of experience to correct our worldview.

We are so caught up in purpose that we would feel more comfortable if God shared our preoccupation with work. But God plays. The birds in a single tree are sufficient proof that God did not set out with a divine no-nonsense attitude to make a creature that would perfectly achieve the purpose of a bird.

What could that purpose be I wonder? There are titmice, juncos, and chickadees; woodpeckers, gold finches, starlings, and crows. The only bird God never created is the no-nonsense bird.”

It makes sense that Br. David advocates both play and gratitude. The two go hand-in-hand: play is an expression of gratitude for the great gift of life.

Next time you go out, watch the birds as they swoop and soar in the sheer joy of flight. As you do, remember that, even though we don’t have wings, somewhere in us is that kid who took flights of fancy as he or she played. Then find a park, get on the swing, and let your inner bird take wing!

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. His book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old will be published in June.

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