Embodied Prayer – Play

As you watch, what do you notice? What do you feel?

Sometimes we move quickly. Sometimes we stop in wonder and gaze at what is before and around us.

Fast or slow, we may have fun such that we want or indeed repeat and do it again!

How is your life like going downhill or slowing turning round?

Tell Jesus and listen for a response.

After slowing down, many still struggle with how to pray. What shall we say about our pain? How might we hear God speaking to us? Jesus blessed children, and told adults to be more like them.[i] What might children teach us about how to lift the lid and pray our sputtering lives?

Play. Imagine. Improvise. Make it up. Risk doing something you haven’t done in ages or ever. Let yourself have fun. Play is fun such that you want to keep going and lose track of time. Move. As InterPlay teaches, fling your fingers as if throwing paint on the walls. Scrunch up your face. Open your face wide and stick out your tongue. Shake your body gently and then like a wet dog. Droop and let yourself hang. Color something, anything – whether it’s abstract, in a book, or simply doodling the names of people or concerns on your heart. Get down on your knees or up close to what catches your attention.

Play is not an activity but a state of mind core to our biology.[ii] Play and creativity naturally open nonlinear ways to discover and express ourselves in prayer, and to hear God.[iii] It is not all nice and positive. Play helps express pain and sputtering emotions, without having to speak. Praying with playful movement and other arts is something anybody can do. This is healing for the weary, worn, and grieving.[iv]

How did you enjoy playing as a child? In what did you lose track of time or return to again and again?

How has a childlike perspective been part of your prayer or in what you have seen in others?

What might it look like to be playful with your prayer now?

[i] Matthew 18:1-5
[ii] Stuart L. Brown and Christopher C. Vaughan (2009) Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. New York, NY: Avery, p60.
[iii] Christine Valters Paintner and Betsey Beckman (2010) Awakening the Creative Spirit: Bringing the Arts to Spiritual Direction. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse, p23.
[iv] These paragraphs are from my “Playing Bodies, Praying Bodies” in SSJE’s Cowley Magazine, Winter 2021

Further Sources

Kingdom of God within and among you – Robert C. Dykstra (2018) Finding Ourselves Lost: Ministry in the Age of OverwhelmEugene, OR: Cascade Books, p49-52. All of chapter three, “Unrepressing the Kingdom: Pastoral Theology as Aesthetic Imagination,” informs my teaching. I first read it when published as an article. Dr. Dykstra was one my favorite professors at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Coloring Prayer – www.prayingincolor.com

Hand Dance – www.interplay.org – I am grateful for much fun, wisdom, and caring connection by being part of this community. There are easy opportunities for every body. Both books cited in the Welcome section are by InterPlay co-founders: Cynthia Winton-Henry and Phil Porter. Betsey Beckman, co-author of Christine Valters Paintner, is also an InterPlay leader.

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