A Play-Full Life

Slowing Down and Seeking Peace

by Jaco Hamman

I smelled God. Maybe you have, too. It happened in northern Montana as I was making my way along forest and fire roads on my off-road motorcycle with my riding partner, Barry. We stopped to don our rain gear just as a torrential storm exploded above and around us. Even with our off-road motorcycles, traveling on gravel in these circumstances is dangerous, so took shelter beneath some trees. The storm blew over in about fifteen minutes, and blue sky appeared. It was then that I smelled God. It was an intense smell that filled not only my nose and lungs but also every fiber of my being. I hadn’t known: God smells like a pine forest freshly washed by a torrential thunderstorm.

Not worrying excessively when one gets lost and smelling God are both normal experiences if one lives a play-full life. A play-full person finds liminal, sacred moments, as well as peace, contentment, and hope in the strangest of places and circumstances. To be play-full is to imaginatively and creatively engage one’s self, others, God, and all of reality so that peace and justice reign within us and with others, and in every conceivable situation we might find ourselves in.

Today we are in great need of such play-fullness. We work longer hours than any previous generation; we sleep less than our bodies need to rejuvenate themselves; we have more debt and insecurities as we live with new economic and safety threats; we experience job loss in record numbers; and we fear that our national security will be breached. Our health care system is uncertain; consumerism remains high and has become a second birthright as we medicate our stress by shopping; our family systems are strained and we are separating and divorcing at record levels; and nature is exploited to levels that cannot sustain the long-term future of humanity.

To experience the promise of “life to the full” in these circumstances offers not only hope, but also promises ways to reverse some of these trends. Such a full or abundant life is possible for all. But, as Sigmund Freud said shortly before his death, balancing loving and working is the most important and difficult task of life.

I am mindful of the need and importance of balancing personhood, partnering, parenthood, and profession in life. Personhood speaks to being a health self, a healthy “I” or “me.” Healthy personhood, which is not defined by the absence of disease but by the presence of meaning, is not a given, but takes much conscious cultivation. Partnering includes all out intimate relationships, from friendships to marriage and family. Our partnerships become the rational web that anchors us in the ups and downs of life. Play-full persons never exploit their life-giving relationships. Parenting addresses parenthood, but includes all roles and activities that strengthen children and those not yet adults. Many sociologists believe that the United States’ greatest concern is the quality of daycare we offer young generations as they build stable intrapersonal and interpersonal foundations. Profession is about is about our work and sense of vocation. In the corporate world in which we live, profession is often the dominant force that undermines personhood, partnering, and parenting.

We cannot honor God any other way than through the four P’s of life. Thus, God needs not be the first in some sequence as to be an intimate part of every aspect of our lives: God invites you personally into a relationship that you need to nurture and cultivate (personhood); God wants to be part of your intimate relationships (partnering); since God is the Covenant God of future generations, God cares about children and their plight (parenting); and God provides you with a sense of vocation and purpose (profession). The important thing is not to keep the balance all the time, but to recognize when we’ve lost that balance and to restore the balance as soon as possible. Becoming play-full is arguably one of the most effective ways to restore balance to our lives.

As a play-full person, you turn moments of conflict into moments of connection, overcoming a natural tendency to withdraw into silence or to lash out in rage. Play-fullness rehumanizes us. By seeking play-fullness, we are on a path of reclamation, anticipating the image of God manifesting through us.

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