To learn to play…

A number of years ago, there was a series on TV called SG-1, one of the Stargate series. We didn’t watch it at the time, but our son bought the series and has gotten us started on it.

Earlier this week we watched an episode titled “Learning Curve.” Briefly, the team has traveled to a planet as part of an exchange program of sharing knowledge. In the course of their contacts, the team discovers that a particular group of children in that planet are repositories of incredible knowledge–they are the ones who learn. However, they also discover a couple of troubling aspects of that situation: (1) these children are implanted with minute devices (nanites) in their brains when they are infants, a device that greatly enhances their ability to learn; (2) when the child approaches what we would call puberty, the nanites are removed and placed in adults, and the child loses all the knowledge they had. They are warehoused–taken care of well, but with no stimulation.

The team returns to earth with an 11-year-old who teaches them how to build a complicated reactor–and they discover that she has no knowledge of fun or play. Knowing what her future holds, they struggle with returning her to her home planet–and she does not understand their concern. Before she can be returned, the team commander disobeys orders and takes the child, Merrin, off the base to spend an afternoon at school–learning to play games and to draw. And then Merrin returns.

The team members are upset about Merrin’s future–but then they receive an urgent call to travel to the planet. When they arrive, the adult they have interacted with before greets them with more exuberance than previously shared and takes them to the place where the children are kept–and they discover them happily playing, drawing. The afternoon that Merrin spent in the school has significantly changed lives of all the members of the society, since her nanites learned about “fun” and carried that knowledge with them as they were transplanted.

And it got me thinking about the importance of play. It’s not just something children do when they’re little. We all need to remember–or to learn–how to do it.

I struggle with this sometimes. I catch myself wishing I could run and play and dance with the abandon of a child…and wondering why I can’t give myself release to do so.

I think sometimes I’m too afraid of what someone else might think…afraid I’ll look ridiculous…or will fall…or………….

But maybe…just maybe…I need to pay more attention to that child in me that wants out. Jenny Joseph has expressed it well in her poem “Warning”:


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Nurturing the soul

What if we lived in a world where music and art and things of beauty were considered devilish? What if we were in a world where to be known by your mother’s name (instead of your father’s) was considered obscene? What if we lived in a world where women were considered tools of the devil?

Unfortunately that’s not as far-fetched as it might seem. I got to thinking about this after reading a book titled Zeina, written by an Egyptian woman. (You can read more about my reaction to that book and the other one I’m suggesting for March here.)

When I listen to some of our current political “discourse”–especially as it relates to the issues of women’s contraception and the right of women to have say in decisions affecting their bodies–it feels like we live in a world where women (and women’s bodies) are considered devilish in some way.

I watch as cuts are made to school budgets–not to the programs that take the most money, but to those things that nurture our souls. Sports seem to be sacrosanct; their programs are the last things to feel the budget ax. Yet music and arts are seen as frills…luxuries…not something we really need to worry about.

But we do.

If we ignore the things that nurture our souls, we do so at our peril. We don’t have to all like the same kind of music and art; we need the variety of expressions that reflect the diversity of humanity. But we desperately need those things that remind us of beauty. Yes, they will challenge us…yes, there will be some versions that we do not like. But even those help nurture our souls, help us articulate what it means to be human.

In my faith tradition, we are told that we are created in God’s image. I realize that can be interpreted many ways–but what seems to me to be an important interpretation is that God is a creating God…and if indeed that is true, then we are also creating individuals. To ignore that is to remove from ourselves a significant part of our relationship with our Creator.

My faith story of creation also has this statement: “God saw all that God had created–and it was good!”  That includes those parts of creation that had “practical” uses–and also those things that (as far as we can tell) were simply created because they nurtured God.

We need those things that nurture our souls in order to truly be the creation God intended (and intends). A colorless world is not the creation I read about–nor is it the world I want to live in.

We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature — trees, flowers, grass –grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence…we need silence to be able to touch souls….Mother Teresa.

We lose our souls if we lose the experience of the forest, the butterflies, the song of the birds, if we can’t see the stars at night.–Thomas Berry

Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons. You will find it is to the soul what a water bath is to the body.–Oliver Wendell Holmes

To be free…

I’ve been mulling over what freedom means this morning–since reading a CNN article about slavery in Mauritania. It’s a chilling article, partially because it is a form of slavery different from what I am aware of from our own history in the United States.

Not different in its effect on people–slavery painfully dehumanizes both slave-owner and slave…and the effects are long-lasting.

But different in its development.

In our country, while there were forms of slavery before the creation of “institution” of slavery that resulted in the importation of thousands of people to serve no other purpose than to be workers without pay, many of those early slaves had ways of becoming free–had hope before them.

When the institution of slavery developed in the United States, it was something new…something different. Slaves were kept in place by physical chains, physical bonds. In many ways slavery was a new layer–and there were people who knew life before it and fought it because of those memories.

But in Mauritania, there isn’t that hope…or that memory. Slavery there has become so much a part of the fabric of life that those who are born into it can’t imagine life any other way. And even those who are able to be freed don’t understand freedom. They are not bound by physical chains, but by something much deeper.

I think part of the story that struck me the most was this:

Abdel, the SOS co-founder, said he freed Yebawa decades ago. He is in his early 40s now works as a servant for Abdel’s family, and others, for pay. But when we asked Yebawa about the moment he was freed, he was confused by the idea. It seemed as though he’d never considered it before.

“No one ever told me I was free. I don’t know what that would be like,” he said through our local translator, who, after the interview, expressed shock to have heard those words come out of the mouth of a person today, even in Mauritania.

So what does freedom mean? How and when does one know they are free?

Another statement from the story: “Freedom is something that must be claimed.”

Something inside each individual must somehow be watered enough to burst into life–the seed of hope…the possibility that there can be a better life. The story does talk about a mother and daughter who are claiming their freedom, and that does give hope.

But there are still so many who are slaves–in Mauritania, slaves to a culture that tells them this is just the way life is. And in our country? Slaves to our wants and our disregard of others’ needs…

When will we all be free? When we can see the D

Where is God?

When life is going well, it’s easy (well, easier, anyway!) to sense the presence of the Divine. But what happens when life changes?

Those changes may come about because of the loss of a loved one…a change in health…loss of a job… There are a lot of things that can throw us for a loop.

I think I’ve talked before about a three-year dark night of the soul that I went through. I hated that time! I didn’t know where I fit in…didn’t trust people…and definitely didn’t trust God! I didn’t know where God was.

The only way I got through that time was because of my journaling. It provided an opportunity for my to yell and scream at God…to express my hurts…to raise my questions about where I was being called and what I was supposed to do.

One of the things I discovered  was this: that sometimes trust is an act of the will, not a feeling. It’s a conscious decision, not a specific choice. I’d been focused on the “feeling” of the relationship with God, but what I ultimately found during that dark night was that the feeling wasn’t as important as the “knowing” that the foundation was secure, even if/when I couldn’t “feel” the presence of the Divine.

I also discovered that some of my dreams and expectations had to die in order for something better to grow. Believe me, that wasn’t easy!!

Here’s one of the poems I wrote during that time:

To walk with you--
     to let you be my guide--
takes me to places I would not choose.
          Winding paths
          Steep roads
               with stones in the way
          Dark roads
               that make me fearful.

I had thought
     the walk would be
          on well-marked routes.

The sun shines--
     but dimly at times--
as I struggle
     to trust--
          even when it seems I am going the wrong way
     to hope--
          that light will break through the darkness
     to cling to the One who urges me on.

     you have promised
          never to leave me completely alone
          to bring me to new heights
          new eyes to see your people with.

I trust--
     and I fear
          in equal amounts.

Be the light
     in my darkness,
the hope
     in my doubt,
the new life
     in my death.

Signs of Spring

There’s a song we sing fairly often in our congregation titled “Signs of God.” It begins “There are signs of hope…signs of God” and goes through a litany of everyday events that–if we are looking–show us signs of God.

I’ve been thinking of that the last couple of days. How open am I to seeing signs?

Sunday night, when I was walking from the parking lot to my front door, I noticed that the buds of the magnolia tree (at least I think that’s the kind of tree it is!) were beginning to open. They’ve looked kind of like pussy willow buds for a while–but now the white blossoms are beginning to open up for their brief life.

The last couple of days I’ve heard birds singing as I took my dog for a walk. I realized that the mornings have been quiet for a few months–except for the sound of the wind. We haven’t had much snow, but the birds haven’t been around, either.

This morning, as I looked out my kitchen window, I can see that the daffodils are just about ready to pop open. By this afternoon, there will probably be lots of blooms, and I’ll pick some to have at work as a reminder.

There are signs everywhere–if we open our eyes to them. They don’t have to be supernatural events…they can be ordinary, everyday sights and sounds. But if our eyes are open, they can guide us to the coming of spring…and to God.