Today’s countryside provides the setting for both work and leisure. In addition to work, which can dominate our lives, we have the gifts of Sabbath, of feast and festivity: the gift of play.
In these God has given us space for rest and recreation to enable us to become the people we might truly be. How might we all, adults as well as children, recreate our relationships with the natural world, with each other, and with God by rediscovering the gift of play?
Through our project on Theology and Play we hope to shed fresh light on a number of significant issues which include:
• Our relationship to landscape and the environment
• Making ‘space’ for play: that is creating both appropriate opportunities and suitable locations for play
• The importance of play in human life for development and well-being
• The contribution of play to our understanding of God.
Play is rooted in the human experience, it is part of our enjoyment of the created order, hence the importance of outdoor play and outdoor play spaces. Play helps us to discover who we are through adventure and imagination; it helps us create relationships as we negotiate the intricacies and changing rules of children’s games. Play helps us to push the boundaries and explore the limits as we take risks on the climbing frame or the white water
raft; it expresses our own skills and creativity as we perform music, act in dramas, compete in sporting events. Play helps us to celebrate the gift of life in festival and feasting.
In so many aspects, physical, social, emotional and intellectual, the experience of play is central to human experience and
development – why wouldn’t it also be significant for our spiritual growth and well-being?
But what might a theology of play mean for people who live in rural areas? Access to nature can be limited by a range of legal, social and physical factors. Access to nature possibly needs to be designed and managed into daily living, so that, as creatures made in the image of God, children and adults alike can re-connect with God’s creation in nature.
There are many ways in which this is already being done or could be done by faith communities in rural areas: perhaps by bringing elements of nature into worship and liturgy; perhaps by working with children not only in a church but also in school or other structured settings. Or conceivably, we might allow children to connect with God through nature by means of free play such as climbing trees, paddling in streams, skimming stones, playing in mud or just exploring.
Developing a more adequate theology of play might lead us to examine how much we allow children to play and explore nature in this way, compared to
how much we try to control, or even deny these experiences to children. How far do we allow children to respond to their natural propensity to play in this way?
In rediscovering a theology of play for both church and society we recover an important aspect of the biblical tradition and bring a proper perspective and wholeness to our experience of life. But the playing of the church on earth also anticipates the play of heaven: “Man redeemed has once more become a child … A child once more, he plays.” (Hugo Rahner)
Helen Woolley & Nicholas Wood
Helen Woolley, a Chartered Landscape Architect, is a Senior Lecturer in Landscape at The University of Sheffield. She is a member of her local Baptist Church
Nicholas Wood is Dean, Fellow and Director of the Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture at Regent’s Park College, Oxford, and a Baptist Minister.
Helen and Nick are interested in hearing from churches and organisations who are using their indoor facilities and outdoor spaces for recreation and play for adults, young people and children. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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