A while ago I wrote a piece on play. After spending a week on the beach of Lake Michigan with family and friends, I’ve been thinking about play again. In my previous post, I hinted at an alternate definition of play- play as joy and wonder filled engagement of the world. This definition lets many things be play: sitting around a campfire, watching the sun set, hiking, sailing, reading, good conversation. encounter with the mysteries of the world, birth, marriage and even, I think, death.
To play is not to make light of something, to play is to participate fully, deeply in the present. Play is an action, something we do, but also play can be ( should be?) a state of mind. Play can also be the glasses we wear to view the world in a way that is more consistent with God’s intentions. Play could be the lenses of joy and wonder and mystery through which we see the world.
You might be familiar with the Shorter Westminster Catechism. For Presbyterians, among others, we think these sorts of confessions and catechisms are important aids to helping us articulate our faith. They are also limited and fallible because they are written by particular people in a particular time and place. But sometimes, they can capture important ideas and the first question of the shorter catechism does that.
“What is the chief end of man?”
“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
What does it mean to “enjoy” God forever? How do we do that? Does this happen in this life or the next?
Confessions and catechism are by their very nature filled with doctrine. I find in interesting that this document, doctrine filled as it is, begins with action and emotion. The “chief end of man” is not correct doctrine, it is not being right, or holy, or perfect. The “chief end”, the purpose, the reason for our existence is to glorify God and enjoy God- forever!
What on earth does that mean? Part of the meaning has to do with recognition of the excellence and worthiness of the one being glorified. Part of glorifying God has to do with living in awareness of the wonder of who God is. If you read through the definitions of glorify and glory, celebration and happiness are part of what it means to glorify.
To “enjoy” God? What does it mean to enjoy God? At the very least, this seems to suggest a relationship that is based on friendship. Relationships we enjoy are based in love and friendship and trust. Anger, fear, and wrath are not a part of “enjoy”.
The Westminster Divines were not interested in a shallow, superficial, “I’m a Christian, I must be happy” type of faith. There were people who took faith and belief very seriously. I suspect they were not frivolous men. And I certainly don’t mean we should ignore the very real suffering in the world that grieves God and should grieve us. Enjoying God and glorifying God changes the way we encounter suffering.
This hymn by Sidney Carter, “Lord of the Dance” embraces the paradox of joy and suffering.
Celebration, praise, joy and enjoyment, – found and lived in the real presence of God constitute our purpose. Its not easy to do- at least for me. I only live this way a small part of the time- a few minutes here, and hour there. Occasionally an entire glorious day. It is a glimpse of what is possible in this life. It is a glimpse of the life to come.
The day at the beach, the winter evening spent together in front of the fire. the well played game of softball, the exuberance of running, belly laughs, quiet chuckles, finishing the Sunday crossword puzzle, chopping wood, looking your beloved in the eyes. Add your own favorite things. Are these our glimpses of heaven? Can we imagine?