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The Christian at Play by Robert K. Johnston


Robert K. Johnston, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology and Culture, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena CA 91182. Prior to that he was Vice-President and Dean of North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. This book was originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company in 1983. Prepared for Religion Online by Rev. Herbert F. Lowe.


Chapter Three: Play: Three Theological Options


Our dream pictures of the Happy Place where suffering and evil are unknown are of two kinds, the Edens and the New Jerusalems. Though it is possible for the same individual to imagine both, it is unlikely that his interest in both will be equal and I suspect that between the Arcadian whose favorite daydream is of Eden, and the Utopian whose favorite daydream is of New Jerusalem there is a characterological gulf.
W. H. Auden1

Many Christian theologians can be characterized as belonging to one of two camps. There are, on the right, those theologians clustering around the individualistic orientations of a Paul Tillich or a Rudolph Bultmann, and on the left, those moving outward from the more socially dominated schemes of a Karl Barth or a Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The disciples of the former have been concerned with emphasizing the need for a radical redefinition of personal faith, while those finding their .roots in the latter have often focused on the need to radically -restructure society and the Church. The one group has moved :inward from an aesthetic conviction, having a vision of Eden; the other has moved outward from an ethic, having a vision of the New Jerusalem. One group has understood the Kingdom of God in Arcadian terms, the other in Utopian terms.

Such a comparison is, of course, both overstated and incomplete. Nevertheless, it allows us to discern the general split in much of academic theology today. Both sides begin with a .problem concerning the present, but each poses a different question. The one asks, How can I celebrate life? The other asks, How can we change the world? In seeking answers, the one has concerned itself with individual healing, the other with political liberation.

What is surprising in the context of this book is the desire of both "life-liberators" and "world-changers" to explore the phenomenon of play as a possible means toward their respective visions of wholeness. For those on both sides, however, play has proven a continuing problem, for it has remained within work-dominated categories. Christian theologians have scarcely fared better than general society in understanding the nature and importance of play. In terms of our discussion in Chapter One, the theological left has attempted to include play within its work agenda of political liberation -- within, that is, its updated work ethic. The theological right, on the other hand, reacting against such extrinsic goals, has adopted a new set of rules, turning its competitive impulse inward. Play has assumed a central place in this altered agenda, too, self-expression and fulfillment becoming the goal. Whether "play as politics" or "play as total ideology," the result has been the same: play has been reduced to something less than itself.

Before moving our discussion appreciably forward, it will prove instructive to consider at some length the ideas of representative theologians from both of these camps who have written on play. Their struggles to articulate play's rightful place in the Christian life will focus the issue for us theologically as well as prepare us to explore other possible theological venues. Sam Keen and Jürgen Moltmann are two such writers. Keen, a theological post-Tillichian with philosophical roots in Marcel and Heidegger, has been almost preoccupied with the phenomenon of play as a means of personal healing. His books and articles, such as Apology for Wonder, "Manifesto for a Dionysian Theology," To a Dancing God, and Telling Your Story, all center on the experience of play?2 Jürgen Moltmann, a theological post-Barthian with philosophical roots in Bloch and Hegel, has explored play much less frequently. But he, too, has found in play a means of enfleshing his theology of hope and liberation. In his article " `How Can I Play, When I'm in a Strange Land?' " and his subsequent essay "The First Liberated Men in Creation," which was an expansion of his previous reflection and which was published in English as Theology of Play, we find his most direct writings on the topic.3

But neither man will provide contemporary Christians with the most helpful clarifications of play. At best, they are useful foils. Instead, theological insight comes from somewhat surprising quarters, from the "non-theological" pens of Peter Berger and C. S. Lewis. Both men, from their differing perspectives on culture -- Berger as a sociologist of religion and Lewis as a professor of English literature -- have allowed play to be the activity we have described in Chapter Two. Moreover, each has addressed himself specifically to play's "religious" impulse-its potential for opening us up to the sacred dimensions of reality. Perhaps their primarily academic moorings in the world of culture have made these lay-theologians particularly sensitive to the nature and implications of play. Whatever the reason, Lewis's Surprised by Joy and Berger's A Rumor of Angels show real discernment. Thus in this chapter we will begin with the writings of Keen and Moltmann and conclude with the thoughts of Berger and, more particularly, of C. S. Lewis.

Play as Total Ideology: Sam Keen

Sam Keen is a former Associate Professor of Philosophy and Christian Faith at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and more recently Director of the Esalen Institute Theological Residence Program and a contributing editor of Psychology Today. He has moved increasingly from theology toward psychology and from working within an institutional structure to one much more individualistic and free-lance. Throughout this varied professional career, Keen has focused on finding personal answers to life's meaning. Taking his clues from Gabriel Marcel and Paul Tillich, Keen has understood the theologian's task to be that of describing a means of healing for humankind's "disease," its estrangement. Thus his theology has been functionally synonymous with his therapy. This is the key to understanding Keen, for when one realizes that he thinks that theology and psychology are functionally equivalent, there emerges a general shape and common direction to his otherwise many-faceted endeavors.

In his writings, which are strongly autobiographical (and thus oriented to the white, upper-middle-class male), Keen first asks how we overcome the "dis-ease" of humankind. He then envisions a new person and prescribes a cure that will produce the desired results. What Keen offers is a new theological anthropology, a new therapeutics. He states: "Every form of therapy, whether it is carried on in churches, growth centers, consulting rooms or wisdom schools rests upon a vision of what man might become, a diagnosis of his present unhappiness and a prescription for how he may move toward fulfillment"

A. The Diagnosis

Keen thinks today's Americans are ill at ease with themselves, and thus are less than fully human. The sources of this discomfort are multiple, but the chief one is that people in the West live under a Promethean illusion, attempting to evade the reality of their vulnerability and transience. Keen labels such "dis-eased" persons Homo Faber (man the fabricator, or worker) -man bent on creating his own meaning by eliminating all elements of mystery. Obsessed with the need for clarity, Homo Faber has what might be labeled "the scrubbing compulsion of the mind."5 His self-image, according to Keen, "is so exclusively `masculine' that it makes impossible an appreciation of the dignity of the more `feminine' modes of perceiving and relating to the world; it majors in molding and manipulation and neglects accepting and welcoming."6116 Sterile both in environment and attitude, Homo Faber finds it impossible to participate sensually in a way that will create authentic life.

For Keen, the dis-eased person as Homo Faber is the individual who has destroyed both human wholeness and the possibility for new life by denying the "feminine" in favor of the "masculine." Keen offers an alternate yet similar appraisal of our contemporary "dis-ease" when he speaks of the destructive bifurcation of individuals into bodies and minds. Rather than accept our bodily humanity with its limits (chief of which is death), we have sought to live with the illusion that our bodies are mere objects to be used or abused. We have constructed a body "to work, not to play. . . . It's a capitalistic body -- a body ruled by the head."7 We in the West have become too cerebral, too gnostic, Christian theology being a chief supporter of this heresy. Keen tells us that he himself once suffered from this illness. He describes himself in his mid-thirties as having had a "good, stylish, serious, productive, disciplined, neurotic, death-defying American body."8

Keen is suggesting that Western society's present "dis-ease" is attitudinal. It may be described as our prejudice favoring the masculine over the feminine, or our preoccupation with the mind over the body. It may also be categorized as a penchant for the Apollonian over the Dionysian. The modern individual has too often subjugated the spontaneous to the orderly, the possible to the necessary, the enthusiastic to the reasonable, the wonderful to the regular.9 In yet another description, Keen identifies our current "dis-ease" as our inability to view life as a "story," to integrate past, present, and future into a meaningful whole.10 The metaphysical myths of our tradition no longer confer identity upon us today. We have lost our unity of life; past, present, and future find no common ground. Lacking a story, we must form our identity in a void.

In his book Telling Your Story, Keen summarizes these various descriptions of our contemporary distress:

The dis-ease of modern man's psyche is more of a vacuum than a thorn in the flesh. We are alienated, disgraced, frustrated, and bored because of what hasn't happened, because of potentialities we have not explored. Few of us know the fantastic characters, emotions, perceptions and demons that inhabit the theaters that are our minds.11

Man" does not know that within him resides the "feminine" as well as the "masculine," the body as well as the mind, the Dionysian as well as the Apollonian, the present as well as the past and the future. Keen's therapeutic psychology, his theological anthropology, is thus committed to helping an individual shed his limited identity as a "dis-eased" person in order that he might know his full and balanced humanity.

B. The Vision

According to Keen, life fully in accord with human nature is "graceful, light, and playful.12 It is based in wonder, hope, and trust. Keen's new individual is similar to that proposed by the counter-therapies in psychology. He is "sensuous, immediate. playful" -- 0ne "whose prime vocation will be enjoyment, not labor, and whose best work will be very much like play."13 In his writings Keen has attempted to portray the new person he envisions in a variety of ways. But chief among these has been the new person as Homo Tempestivus and as "graceful man."

Homo Tempestivus is literally "timely man."'4 He is sometimes Dionysian, at other times Apollonian, depending on what is most appropriate to the occasion. Within this model, health is judged in terms of balance, for the human spirit demands both wilderness and home, wonder and welcome, adventure and security, the Dionysian and the Apollonian. As Keen says, "A philosophical definition of health, creative life, or authentic selfhood must incorporate the dominant emphases of these two modes of being in the world and their respective models of man. . . . Health is to be found in balance, in wholeness-in polychrome existence."

One need not choose between wonder and action, grace and responsibility, for the "healthy personality is structured upon a principle of oscillation."15

Taking his cue from Ecclesiastes, Keen believes everything is beautiful in its own time. The problem with this scheme is that Keen both misreads the biblical wisdom tradition and seems to equate work with the Apollonian and play with the Dionysian. We will return to these difficulties in due course. For now it is sufficient to observe that Keen understands the healthy or mature person to be one who moves gracefully between the Dionysian and Apollonian modes of being in the world according to the changing seasons and crises of life. Homo Tempestivus always seeks to act appropriately. Keen suggests that the best metaphor to illuminate this style is that of the dance: "The wise man is a dancer; he hears the music issuing from his situation. He is sensitive to his partners, and moves boldly to commit himself to the rhythmic patterns that emerge. . . . The sense of timing which is the essence of wisdom comes only when one trusts oneself to the dance."16

Keen believes that Homo Tempestivus -the fully mature individual-"like an athlete or a dancer ... moves among the ambiguities and limitations of existence with a gracefulness that appears to the spectator effortless and spontaneous."17 Such a "graceful man," whether viewed athletically, socially, or theologically, is one who has "trust in the context within which action must take place and confidence in the ability of the self to undertake appropriate action."18 As Keen continues his description of a graceful individual in To a Dancing God, notions of integration supersede those of oscillation. The "graceful man" is now portrayed as the mature person who is willing to be his whole self in a state of relaxed freedom, to dwell creatively in the holiness of his own native soil, to be "at home" in the moving resonance of the present. For Keen, grace is having the courage to be satisfied. The "graceful man" is the one who has been inhabited by the "dancing god," that is, life itself; he is the person whose style is serendipitous who finds grace in the most modest and hidden places. The graceful individual freely integrates not only the Apollonian and the Dionysian but the present, past, and future into a meaningful whole. The best metaphor to describe this individual is, again, the dancer. Zorba is Keen's graceful person par excellence: one who dances "with the whole spirit."19

C. The Prescription

Keen's prescription for healing "dis-ease" and returning individuals to their intended wholeness can be summarized in one word: play. Whether by accepting gracefully the "wonderful" in life, or by integrating past, present, and future within one's personal story, or by giving oneself over to the visceral and erotic, Keen proposes that we turn from the acid soil of a Promethean view of life and embrace instead an attitude of wonder.20 We must lose our illusions (in Keen's words, we must become "dis-illusioned") about self-mastery and accept life as a given. Only then are "we set free to admire rather than possess, to enjoy rather than exploit, to accept rather than grasp."21 A wondering individual is able to find the graceful in the ordinary-in a cup of tea or the caress of the winds. He dwells within the logic of the "player," freely accepting the limits (of We's game) as gifts?22 Recognizing his boundaries, he is able to turn to a mode of perceiving and celebrating that is spontaneous, immediate, and erotic. Such a "wonder-ful" person has the capacity for "sustained and continued delight, marvel, amazement, and enjoyment."23 He is truly a perpetual "player."

If one's dis-ease is in part an existence without a meaningful story by which to integrate present, past, and future, then a prescription for wholeness will also include a means by which to write anew one's story. Only then can one be "wonder-ful." According to Keen, the ground of theology, or storytelling, is no longer outside the human community, God being "dead"; thus Keen feels we must shift our focus to the individual and the commonplace.24 In order to overcome my dis-ease, my dis-grace, Keen suggests that "I can proceed by telling my story."25 Such playful autobiography is, at its core, a confession of faith. It professes belief that there is in the native ground of one's own experience, one's history, that which testifies to the holy and thereby unites all humankind.

According to Keen, our gracefulness, our ability to be "wonder-ful," requires that we become fully incarnate in our own bodies and historical situations. To tell one's story is to incarnate one's history. To be erotic is to come home to one's body. "Incarnation, if it is anything more than a `once-upon-a-time' story," suggests Keen, "means grace is carnal, healing comes through the flesh."26 The inner harmony resulting from affirming one's story needs to be matched by an outer harmony resulting from an affirmation of one's body. To be erotic and to tell your story are two sides of the same coin. "Trust your body," says Keen. "Do what feels good."27 For as a person is in his body, so he will be in the world. Thus Keen urges as a prescription for the "dis-eased" individual that his "real, literal, carnal body" be "resensitized and educated in the sacredness which lies hidden in its feelings. "28

Whether advocating giving oneself over to the ecstatic and wonderful, or telling one's story, or doing what feels good as "body-minds," Keen's prescriptive therapy is broadly centered in the experience of play. How are we to know ourselves fully and thus escape our present dis-ease? Keen would suggest that play is the medicine which will restore health. In the experience of play, whether it is reflecting on one's story, hiking in the mountains, or making love, we have the opportunity to experience ourselves vibrantly and authentically-to know our real selves to be other than our present states of "dis-ease."

Is This Theology?

What is there in Keen's analysis which makes his play-therapy theology-particularly given his acceptance of the death of God (i.e., his rejection of the Christian story as rendering life ultimately meaningful)? Keen has answered just such a question by suggesting that his concern is a phenomenological one, centering on those places where the holy is most manifest. Where have you been both trembling and fascinated? Keen asks. Keen says that when he is asked such a question, he almost inevitably responds in one of three ways: (1) " `Well, I was on a mountaintop'; or `I was by the ocean"' -- i.e., the experiences of nature are often still sacred to the modern individual; (2) "When we had twenty thousand people in Louisville, Kentucky, with Martin Luther King and we sang. . . . `We Shall Overcome' ... we trembled" -- i.e., being truly "in community" can be sacred; and (3) "sexuality is a place of trembling, both of the fear and of the promise" -- i.e., sexuality is still a place where the holy resides .29

By means of such examples, Keen relates the notion of play to that of the sacred, consciously returning to the thesis of Rudolf Otto's The Idea of the Holy. In this book Otto distinguishes several earmarks of that which is holy or sacred. There is, he says, a mysterium due to the presence of the Other which has two defining characteristics: it is simultaneously tremendum (awesome) and fascinans (desirable).30 And where is that mystery experienced primarily today? In our play, asserts Keen. "Whatever functions to unify life, to assure its meaningfulness, to provide what Tillich called an ultimate concern,' " Keen writes. "is experienced as mysterium: tremendum et fascinans. "31

Religion traditionally functioned to nourish and restore one's sense of basic trust. In our modern age, however, not all will find an overtly religious, transcendental form of trust compatible with their epistemological foundations. Keen thinks some people will want to remain religious agnostics, locating the sacred in "flesh, things, and event or not at all." Holiness will be "homogenized into the quotidian." But this need not cause us to despair. Even for these people, their ability to wonder, to accept life's mystery gracefully and gratefully, will allow them also "to credit the context that nourishes and creates [them] as being worthy of trust." For Keen, whether we talk about this context as "God" is not so important as whether we retain that sense of wonder which keeps us aware that ours is a holy place."32

Such is Sam Keen's theology "at a minimum."33 Keen asks, "What is there worth preserving in the Christian tradition?" and his phenomenological answer is found on the level of anthropology, particularly in the person as player. In play we can experience the numinous; our sense of basic trust in life can be nourished and restored. Keen's theology remains "humble," "agnostic" -- discovering the sacred on native soil through a "reawakening of the body" and a reaffirmation of one's personal story. Keen's theology centers on common, natural grace, which he finds rooted within the human experience. With theology through the ages, his theology-therapy seeks the healing of persons but locates the source of that healing not in the distant but the proximate, not in the supernatural but the natural.

An Evaluation

Much can be learned from Keen's theology-therapy. His assessment of contemporary society's ills extends the lines of our argument in Chapter One. The work-dominated models of Western society have been destructive of authentic personhood. The "masculine" has predominated, as has the cerebral and the Apollonian. We need to abandon our Promethean quest and accept life gracefully. Moreover, the sacred does need to be rediscovered in the common events of life -- "in a cup of tea and the caress of the winds." As both an iconoclast and a spokesman for the value of play in human experience, Keen needs to be heard. Nevertheless, his writing is seriously deficient.

This is so because central to Keen's thought has been his belief that all theology, including a theological understanding of play, must be defined solely in terms of one's own autobiography ("I may speak of grace only in the first person")34 This solipsistic reduction of religious authority to personal experience has led Keen to characterize incorrectly both theology and the play experience itself.

Theologically, Keen has been seduced into caricaturing Christian experience according to his reaction to his Fundamentalist upbringing. In his eyes, his experience as a youth within the church was sterile, wooden, legalistic, repressive -- in short, lacking in grace. His more general understanding of Christian ~ experience has been colored by this personal frustration, with the result that he has reduced the Christian life to the mere memory of a past event (he labels this "Israel") which seeks to make its believers hard, tight, and controlled. Keen believes that Christianity stresses the supernatural rather than the natural, the extraordinary rather than the ordinary, the transcendent rather than the subterranean, the past rather than the present, law rather than grace, spirit rather than body, substance rather than symbol. For Keen, the result is that Christianity has little if anything to do with play and must therefore be rejected.35

Keen's commitment to theological autobiography has led him not only to caricature Christianity but also to romanticize his resultant agnosticism. Although, according to Keen, we cannot claim any sure knowledge of God, theology can nevertheless use the word God to serve an indispensable function 36 We need to remain hopeful if we are to maintain our sanity, Keen asserts.37 Thus the idea of God can function to unify our needful affirmations about this unknown source-affirmations of "the trustworthiness of the mystery which surrounds [our] existence." As to how such an assertion is possible (even if it is advantageous), Keen tentatively suggests that if our dominant conviction is that our bodies and feelings can be trusted, "the likelihood is that" we will adopt a liberal view of ultimate reality.38 Keen's personal history as an affluent Anglo-Saxon male seems to become crucial at this point, for it allows him an optimism that is incredible considering the tooth-and-nail progression of world history.

As for his notion of play, despite his occasional attempts to make play sensitive to the communal and the disciplined, Keen has wrongly equated play with one of life's poles-the Dionysian. For Keen, play is "a touch of madness." If play does not lack rules altogether, the rules can at least be changed at will by the player. The person at play knows no limits; he is ecstatic and wonderful -- embracing the individual and dynamic while fleeing from the sanctions imposed both by other players and by rules. Again, Keen's personal history seems determinative in this skewing of play's nature. During the first part of his adult life, Keen was a workaholic, and felt stifled and bored. Thus he has attempted to throw off life's past chains by fleeing from work into play. If work was wrongly characterized by the Apollonian, play now becomes exclusively the Dionysian. Keen admits there are times in life for the orderly, the rational, and the communal, but such activity is not play. Human life is seen as an oscillation between the irrational and rational, the Dionysian and Apollonian, play and non-play.

Moreover, because of his personal history, Keen has largely ignored matters of social ethics in his discussion of play, despite his desire to become Homo Tempestivus, that timely man who responds appropriately to life around him. To give but one example, in his book Telling Your Story, Keen states:

That society is unjust often means that one man's gift is another man's wound. Scarsdale and Harlem, wealth and poverty, privilege and oppression co-exist in unholy symbiosis. But things are more than what they seem. Rich is better than hungry, but injustice may create a supportive community among victims while exploiters suffer anomie. Anxiety and madness can be the price of creative genius. Gifts and wounds fit together like yang and yin 39

 

Such egocentric and, I suspect, ultimately cynical beliefs run roughshod over the ethical. It is easy and correct to say that a playful life in Scarsdale (Keen's life) has its problems. But it is obscene for the person in Scarsdale to suggest that his pain is somehow on a par with, or can be balanced off against, that of the person in Harlem. Keen proposes naively that somehow his privileged play in ignorance and unconscious support of others' oppressed conditions is the best means toward realizing authentic humanness for all. But clearly, the oppressor does not help the oppressed merely by freeing himself through play; he must also work to change structures and to overcome the results of his former and continuing oppressiveness. Keen seems to find little if any meaning in "man-as-maker" or "man-for-others" (to say nothing of woman). He would have us believe that an individual can become free only by first playing in his own garden. One suspects, however, that such rhetoric can be reduced to "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."

 

Play as Politics: Jűrgen Moltmann

Like Sam Keen, Jürgen Moltmann seeks the liberation of humankind from its modern afflictions, and so gives a functional cast to his theology; he too offers a diagnosis of the world's misery, a vision of the world's possibilities, and a prescription for liberation, i.e., salvation. But similarities between these two

men stop here. For while Keen begins consistently with the phenomenon of play (wonder), he moves only cautiously and in conclusion to the overtly theological ("theology is phenomenology"). Moltmann takes the opposite approach, interpreting play in light of an already carefully developed theological system. His theological direction can be summarized in one word: hope. Moltmann offers a far-ranging biblical dogmatic centering on the concept of promise.

According to Moltmann, Christian theology presupposes a "natural" element with which the "supernatural" character of its own vision can be contrasted. While Keen claims that this element is found in one's autobiography, Moltmann asserts that this beginning point is discovered in the universal cry for freedom which extends even to the Godhead. God identifies with his creation as men, women, and nature itself suffer and call out. For the Christian, moreover, this foundational concern is given historical and definitive shape by the Cross of Jesus, where what is truly evil in the world (the torture of creation and the unredeemed condition of the world) is revealed.

Moltmann juxtaposes the questions posed by our existence and creation's (mis)use with the "vision proclaimed by Christian hope"-that vision of Jesus Christ and his future.40 Based on a definite reality in history, Moltmann's concrete vision "announces the future of that reality, its future possibilities and its power over the future."41 This vision (Christian revelation) does not merely introduce something that was always there; "rather, it makes present that which does not yet exist."42 It does not "disclose" history or existence, as Keen would claim, allowing us to return to Eden. Rather, it "opens up" history and existence to a new horizon -- the coming of God.

Contrasting with his diagnosis of the present negative aspects of life is Moltmann's theological perspective of God's future, a vision which not only provides all of life with an intentional structure but also carries with it a program for action. Given the present, God not only promises, he calls; "man" not only hopes, he plans 43 Here is the raison d'etre for Moltmann's political theology: the pro-missio (promise) of the Kingdom becomes the clarion call for a missio (mission) of love. "Hope ... mobilizes to a new obedience," writes Moltmann, for hope remains "a permanent disquiet ... not comfort, but protest, not nightmarish enthusiasms, but resistance, suffering, not escape but love -- that is what hope brings into life."44

Moltmann's Theology Vis-a-vis Play

Soon after Moltmann's book The Theology of Hope appeared in English (in 1967), reviewers questioned the seemingly ironic fact that his hopeful theology had so little to do with play and celebration. For example, Daniel Migliore wrote,

Perhaps the crucial weakness of Moltmann's work ... is that the hope consciousness which is described is too spartan. Little attention is given to celebration, play, and humor as the necessary companions of the struggle for a new world if this struggle is not itself to be overwhelmed by the spirit of rigidity and closedness which it seeks to overcome. In his book, Moltmann speaks very briefly of the joy of Christian hope and in a recent essay [1968] characterizes Christian hope which can laugh, but he has not yet productively explored the relation between a theology of hope and a theology of play 45

As if he were responding directly to his American critics, Moltmann chose as his topic for an address to the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in 1970 the implications of his theology of hope in regard to play 46 In expanded and revised form, these remarks became Theology of Play.4'

As one might suspect from the description of Moltmann's larger theology, play is for him highly purposeful. Moltmann believes that any critical theory of play should start with a consideration of its political function in light of our present social reality. Theories of play, when separated from play's life-context, quickly become obsolete. For Moltmann, our present cultural situation is one in which freedom has become a rarity, and with it, laughter and play. "One can only laugh in freedom," he suggests. But while our brothers starve in India and are tortured in Brazil, what freedom does any citizen of our one world have? Thus, in discussing play, Moltmann addresses those who grieve and protest. The inauthentic play of those who, like Keen, deceive themselves with superficial optimism is of no interest to Moltmann. "I am speaking," he says, "to those who are so oppressed by the misery of this society and by their own impotence that they would prefer to either doubt or forget."48

According to Moltmann, society's misery is not located only in the world's trouble spots. It is apparent in both West Germany and America. We live in a context in which labor is losing its meaning, becoming empty. When we play, we most often use the experience as a safety valve to release the frustration of work's oppression. Unable to be truly free from our burdens, we all too often end up replaying the very same things we have endured in our work ("workers at rattling machines relax on crackling motorcycles ") 49 Play in our society of compulsion and work oftentimes does little more than provide a quality of suspension, temporarily unburden us, or assist political stabilization, work morality, and social regimentation. In other words, it is seldom authentic play. Play has become alienated, bound up by the control of ruling authority. It is play without hope, serving only to make us forget what we are still not able to change.

Moltmann's diagnosis, then, is twofold: (1) it seems wrong to play or dance while others are suffering, and (2) play has too often become the servant of the oppressor.

Over against this diagnosis, Moltmann sets in dialectical tension his eschatological vision of "The Theological Play of God's Good Pleasure." It is an aesthetic vision, one that has largely been obliterated by our ethical posture toward life. Perhaps we can best perceive it, Moltmann suggests, by turning to the simple questions children are most likely to ask. "Why did God create the world? And why did God become man?" Moltmann answers by stating that in creation God "played" meaningfully and freely with his own possibilities, not needing to be productive but demonstrating the wealth of his riches joyfully, according to his own good pleasure. Similarly, there was no compelling reason for God to become man in Jesus other than that it was according to his good pleasure. Moreover, Jesus' correspondence to God's deepest nature (his "freedom which is love") allowed him his radical liberation from the "dead seriousness" of history, says Moltmann; the laughter of Easter reveals that life can indeed be taken playfully,50

Moltmann moves on to ask a final question, this time from the world of Homo Faber: "What is the ultimate purpose of history?" Christian eschatology, he answers, has a similar playful focus, i.e., it must be viewed as "totally without purpose, as a hymn of praise for unending joy, as an ever varying round dance of the redeemed in the trinitarian fullness of God, and as the complete harmony of soul and body." In other words, Christian eschatology must be painted like creation in "the colors of aesthetic categories." Moltmann's vision is of a beautiful, playful God who is bringing into being our playful future with him. In Christian theology we have overemphasized God's dominion and failed to explore the implications of God's glory. Moltmann is not suggesting that aesthetics be substituted for ethics as the focusing principle of our vision of God, but rather that these two principles be viewed as inseparable 51

For Moltmann, the importance of aesthetics as well as ethics holds true not only for our awareness of God but also for our derivative life of faith. Without the free play of the imagination, the Christian's rightful obedience deteriorates into legalism. This is the third part of Moltmann's dialectical theology of play-his prescription. Given our work-oriented suffering, unrest, and joyless play, and given the eschatological visions both of God's playfulness and of our future as "players," it follows that we are to usher in God's future by living now "spontaneously, unselfishly, as if playing." Moltmann entitles his argument "The Human Play of Liberated Mankind. "52

Freed by the justifying future of God from self-assertion and self-searching, the Christian is able to play. In his play the Christian shows the "demonstrative value of being" and also gives a "prevision, foretaste, and preplay" of our future with God.53 Moltmann recognizes that existing forms of play have too often had a nonpolitical character and an a-political tendency. But this is wrong. Given our present inhumanity and God's future Kingdom, we must make the liberating effects of play "more precise and more aimed at a specific goal."54 Play's aim should be that of "driving men to uncover their true humanity which still lies hidden in darkness. "55

An Evaluation

At times Moltmann has been attentive and open both to the phenomenon of play and to the Christian tradition and its sources. For example, his nine pages describing play, based in a theological reflection on creation, are perceptive and honest to both Scripture and the play experience.56 Quoting the Westminster Catechism of 1647, he speaks of "man's chief end" being "to glorify God and enjoy him forever." "Joy is the meaning of human life," he asserts. Moltmann even observes perceptively that for the catechism to pose its question in the way it does (What is man's chief end?) is to risk confusing "the enjoyment of God and our existence with goals and purposes. "57

As creatures, writes Moltmann, we can celebrate our freedom amid "the endless beauties and liberties of the finite concomitants of the infinite joy of the creator." "The moral and political seriousness of making history and of historical struggles" can be "suspended by a calm rejoicing in existence itself. " In this way labor is not ignored but finds itself protected "against the demonic, against despair, against man's self-deification and self-vilification. . . ." Viewed in this light, play serves as a model for life as a whole, as we realize that God himself is playing a wondrous game with us."'58

Unfortunately, however, Moltmann is not consistent either in centering his theological reflection on play in creation or in allowing play its aesthetic posture. All too quickly creation becomes a subset of redemption and aesthetics a subset of ethics. It is this twin and overlapping inconsistency that undermines Moltmann's theology of play, radically qualifying its usefulness for ongoing Christian reflection. Both criticisms need elaboration.

Moltmann's essay on play is entitled "The First Liberated Men in Creation," but his focus is not on creation but on eschatology. Or, to put the matter more precisely, Moltmann considers creation, but he redefines it as a backward projection in light of our eschatological hope. It was in light of the Exodus, Moltmann believes -- it was in light of the God of Promise -- that the Israelites were led to reflect upon their beginnings. How could the Israelites explain the discrepancy between their present suffering and their future hope? According to Moltmann, the creation story became a way of maintaining their vision, and thus another creative witness to our call and commission in the world. Seen in this light, creation theology (that biblical reflection based on life as a gift from God -- e.g., the first chapter of Genesis, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, etc.) becomes merely a subset of eschatology, and as such is reduced to an impetus for mission.

For Moltmann, "The seventh day of creation is still ahead of God and his people in history." The "rest of God" -- i.e., his non-work, or play, and ours -- is viewed as "a promise of the end of history."59 In this way Moltmann pushes into the future "the demonstrative joy in existence" characteristic of both play and creation theology. But this is to misread the biblical texts in order to make them serve other than their intended purposes. What is written from the perspective of fulfillment Moltmann recasts in terms of expectation. The result is that both God's pleasure (play) at the completion of his creative act and man's play at the beginning of his life as creature defined by God's graciousness fail to receive a legitimate place.

Moltmann's hermeneutical predilections for promise over fulfillment, for ethics over aesthetics, and for mission over rest also cause him to ignore play's self-contained meaning and instead to explore the function of play in contemporary society. Moltmann thinks that play needs to be politicized by having its liberating effect made more precise and "more clearly aimed at a specific goal."60 In spite of his helpful vision of eschatological play, he would seek to instrumentalize play -- i.e., to make conscious use of it-for the sake of the revolution.

For Moltmann, play is a form of mission. "The vocation of every lover [including the player] is to bring about revolution," he says, quoting Che Guevara.61 But here we see clearly the deficiency of his position. The vocation of the lover (as any real lover knows) might lead to revolution, but in itself it is first and foremost to be a lover. And the vocation of the player is to play, to accept, to offer-not to seek change. Moltmann quickly passes over this primary experience of play to dwell on its unintended but beneficial consequences. Moltmann thinks there are three consequences, which he wishes to make intentional. First, as mission, play functions as the negation of the negative. It is the way of the clown; it is a powerful way to stand in judgment. Play is "the means the powerless use to shake off their yoke."62 Secondly, play functions as a means of keeping the revolution human-of preventing the revolution from becoming a new form of oppression. Christian play, operating within and on behalf of the revolution of God's future, can keep us aware of our frailty by thrusting before us the humorous incongruities of life .63 Thirdly, play functions as experimentation for and anticipation of a better future. It is "a means of testing a new life-style."64 In play we are given a pre-vision, a foretaste of the Messianic banquet. Play is "fore-play" -- preparation for our future with God.

Moltmann wants to see both creation theology and play itself through a single lens -- his eschatological hope. In this way the richness of both present experience and Christian theology is flattened and reduced to the single focus of our mission of realizing God's future within our present suffering and affliction. In this framework, play does not fit easily within our present anguish, so Moltmann defines it as that proleptic experience of the future which is in God's hand, and our mission of liberation on behalf of that future. Moltmann's imperialistic future causes him to turn from his portrayal of "created" and "creative" play and reduce play to a means of liberation.


Play as Preparatory to Religion: Peter Berger and C. S. Lewis

The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.
The hint half guessed, the gift half understood is Incarnation.

T. S. Eliot 65


Despite their profound differences, Keen and Moltmann have one thing in common: their functionally oriented theologies ultimately turn play into a form of work. However unconsciously, they prove to be students of our modern age, theologians influenced by our continuing compulsion to work. Keen would have us work at our play in order to escape the drudgery and disappointment in life; Moltmann would have us play as an alternate form of mission. For both, their preoccupation with the larger concerns of life aborts the world of play.

Thus it is not from these professional theologians that we will acquire a Christian understanding of play. Instead, fundamental insight into the Christian significance of play can better be gained from two more informal theologians, men whose primary training is outside the realm of theology and more directly related to play -- the sociologist Peter Berger and the literary critic C. S. Lewis. Their occasional writings on play seem truer to the experience of play on its own terms, and so can be better incorporated into an adequate theological formulation.

In his book A Rumor of Angels, Peter Berger inquires into the possibility of theological thinking within our present situation. As both a sociologist and a Christian (though he admits that he has not yet found the heresy into which his theological views comfortably fit), Berger attempts to deal with the alleged demise of the supernatural in our modern world. Berger suggests that in the days ahead -- unless surprises occur -- we will see the continuation of the secularizing trend which is already apparent in society, though he admits that the evidence is not as all-embracing as some have thought. Berger hastens to point out, however, that although secularism is our situation, this does not shed light on the truth or falsity of the supernatural per se, but only on the seeming incapacity of our contemporaries to conceive of it. We need not feel tryannized by the present, for whether theology is a human projection or a reflection of divine realities depends upon one's initial assumptions about reality. Either conclusion is logically possible.

What our present situation suggests to Berger is not the demise of the religious but a necessary approach or methodology for theological reflection: "The theological decision will have to be that, `in, with and under' the immense array of human projections, there are indicators of a reality that is truly `other' and that the religious imagination of man ultimately reflects." Berger believes that the only possible starting point for theology today is the anthropological. For "if the religious projections of man correspond to a reality that is superhuman and supernatural, then it seems logical," suggests Berger, "to look for traces of this reality in the projector himself."66

In looking for inductive possibilities for a move from anthropology to theology, i.e., in attempting to find an anchorage for theology in fundamental human experience, Berger turns to our common, "universal" experiences-to what he labels "prototypical human gestures." Here he finds "what might be called signals of transcendence within the empirically given human ,situation." By this term Berger means "phenomena that are to :be found within the domain of our `natural' reality but that appear to point beyond that reality." One such phenomenon, according to Berger, is our play.67

Berger follows Johan Huizinga in his discussion of the person at play. When one is playing, Berger says, one is going by different time. No longer is it 11:00 a.m. as it is in the "serious" world, but it is the third round, the fourth act, or the second kiss. Moreover, when play's joyful intention is realized, the time -structure of play takes on still another quality -- "it becomes eternity." "Joyful play appears to suspend, or bracket, the reality of our `living toward death' (as Heidegger aptly described our 'serious' condition)." Such transcendent joy can be interpreted a merciful illusion, a regression to childish magic, or in an act of faith can also be understood as a "signal of transcendence." Viewed from this latter perspective, our "natural" experience oŁ "eternity" in play is seen as pointing to its ,."supernatural" fulfillment. Such a reinterpretation of our play -should be understood as encompassing, rather than contradicting, the explanations of empirical reason. For Berger, religion becomes the ultimate vindication of joyful play.68

The important point for Berger is that such faith as results from the play event is inductive, resting on the experiences of our everyday lives. According to Berger, theology need not be rooted in a mysterious revelation available only to the few; it can stem from those natural experiences generally accessible to people. Berger believes that play carries within itself the capacity for ecstasy. That is, in play we are able to step outside the " taken-for-granted reality of everyday life" and open ourselves up to the mystery that surrounds us on all sides. Play has a transcendent dimension, though it is important to note that the theological rootage is found not in the mystical or extraordinary, but in a basic experience common to all.

Berger believes that his "anthropological starting point" will be "intrinsically repulsive to most conservative forms of theology." But this is not necessarily the case. C. S. Lewis, for example, with whom many conservative theologians readily identify, agrees with much of what Berger sets forth, as I will suggest below. His theological difference with Berger would come not with Berger's starting with human experience but with his desire to end there. Berger reasons that "in any empirical frame of reference, transcendence must appear as a projection of man. Therefore, if transcendence is to be spoken of as transcendence, the empirical frame of reference must be left behind." And this is something Berger the theologian, as well as Berger the sociologist, is unwilling to do.69

Berger wishes to speak of "a God who is not made by man, who is outside and not within ourselves," but he limits his act of faith in such a God to projections outward from common human experience, i.e., to signals of transcendence70 The result is that Berger is left finally with his own experience alone, a consequence that weakens his understanding not only of Christian theology but ultimately of play as well. Regarding Christian theology, Berger is left without outside confirmation for his suggestive experiences of play, the authority of Scripture being effectively denied. As he himself admits, what he has is "hypothesis," not "proclamation. "71 Moreover, regarding play, Berger is reduced to a hope, a "rumor" that his transcendent experiences are indeed what they seem, dialogical, or "co-relational," humankind in fact being met by the divine.

Berger has been both perceptive and consistent in his description of play, and his observations about the possible religious dimensions of this sphere of cultural activity are suggestive. But Berger's propensity to expound theology solely on an empirical, inductive basis -- his desire, that is, to make anthropology not only the starting point but the continuing locus of his theology -- actually results in a diminished play experience as well as a truncated Christianity. It is Berger's larger theological hermeneutics, not his "anthropological starting point," which traditional Christian theologians will challenge .72

Play can indeed prove helpful as a starting point for Christian theology, but it need not be described only from the stand-point of the projecting player, nor should it be thought the final word. Our human reach toward the transcendent can be met by God's outstretched arm breaking into history. Open to the divine through play, the modern person can continue on to experience the reality of God through his special revelation centering in the Exodus and in Jesus Christ. Inductive faith can provide a prolegomena for deductive faith, but it cannot serve as the totality of the Christian gospel. There needs to be a circulation between theological induction and theological deduction.

In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis describes several play experiences of his childhood and youth in which he was pointed to something beyond the ordinary horizons of our world, in which he was opened outward to the transcendent. The first such experience occurred when he was six, as he gazed at a toy garden that his brother made for him out of moss, decorated with twigs and flowers, and set in the lid of a biscuit tin. In the years that followed, he heard play's voice of Joy when he smelled a flowering currant bush, when he discovered the autumn of Beatrix Potter's Squirrel Nutkin, when he read Longfellow's Saga of King Olaf, and again when he later became involved in Wagnerian Romanticism.

Lewis had continuing difficulty defining or even describing these experiences of "Joy." For him, Joy was distinct from mere happiness on the one hand, and from aesthetic pleasure on the other. He thought that authentic Joy was characterized by "the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing" that was aroused. Joy was highly "desirable" in two senses of that word, its winsomeness residing in the desire it called forth. Furthermore, this Joy ,:could not be sought directly, for it came "more externally" as the participant gave his whole attention to his experience of play. In describing this experience of Joy, Lewis was attempting to circumscribe that non-sought-after result of play which we have described as play's proclivity to open one outward to the transcendent.73

This Joy -- "this pointer to something other and outer," as Lewis described it-was something Lewis knew primarily as a distant longing until he chanced to pick up at a bookstall George MacDonald's Phantastes, a Faerie Romance. As he read this book, he was changed:

It was as though the voice which had called to me from the world's end were now speaking at my side. It was, with me in the room, or in my body, or behind me. If it had once eluded me by its distance, it now eluded me by proximity -- something too near to see, too plain to be understood, on this side of knowledge.

Lewis goes on to relate: "That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized; the rest of me, not unnaturally took longer. I had not the faintest notion what I had let myself in for by buying Phantastes. "74

Lewis reflected often upon the meaning of his "baptism of the imagination" through play. According to Lewis, modern man lives in a tiny windowless universe, his boundaries narrowed to too small a focus.75 Through such play experiences as the reading of stories-when one could experience life "in a sense `for fun,' and with [his] feet on the fender" -Lewis believed that modern man could perhaps recapture a sense of his distant horizons, much as he once had.76 For Lewis, a story was the embodiment of, or mediation of, the "more." Plot was important, for example, but only as "a net whereby to catch something else." This something added was not an escape from reality, thought Lewis, though it was a reality baffling to the intellect. "It may not be `like real life' in the superficial sense," Lewis stated, "but it sets before us an image of what reality may well be like at some more central region."77 For example, when children read about enchanted woods, they do not begin to despise the real woods. Rather, "the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted. "78

According to Lewis, a good story (and authentic play experiences more generally) has a mythic quality:

It arouses in us sensations we have never had before, never anticipated having as though we had broken out of our normal mode of consciousness and possess joys ["Joy"] not promised to our birth! It gets under our skin, hits us at a level deeper than our thoughts or even our passions, troubles oldest certainties till all questions are reopened, and in general shocks us more fully awake than we are for most of our lives?79

Lewis realized that there is no guarantee that a given story will cause a given reader to respond in this way. But as the story is encountered playfully, its myth-making potential can perhaps be actualized. For Lewis, his experience with MacDonald's Phantastes had been such a mythic event. It had surprised him with joy.

Lewis thought that one's play experiences offered the possibility of being transformed by Joy as one entered fully into the play event. In play, Joy's "bright shadow" might reveal to the participant that indefinite, yet real, horizon of meaning beyond his normally perceived world.80 In play one sometimes glimpses pre-critically ("on this side of knowledge") a more ultimate reality as he breaks out of his "normal modes of consciousness."81

In Lewis's view, however, joy is not only the player's experience. It is also a voice "from the world's end" calling him -- also "that of which joy is the desiring."82 Not only do we "enjoy," but God, who is Lewis's ultimate reality, expresses his joy toward us. Moreover, God's expression of Joy is not limited to the expression of play. Play having opened him up to the possibility of relating directly to joy itself, Lewis later found that joy to be fully actualized in his personal experience with Jesus Christ.83 According to Lewis, not only does God's joy cause us to "en-joy" on the tangent of play's horizon where the radical otherness of God meets the radical wholeness of humankind, but joy also expresses itself in the encounter with the person of Christ. Only through this second experience of Joy did Lewis fully recognize Joy's "bright shadow" for what it was: "holiness."84 Lewis ends Surprised by joy by relating, very simply, this second-order experience of Joy: "I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did."85 Surprised once by joy in his play, Lewis was open to other, more definite experiences of Joy.

Play's potential for "holiness" became a life-long concern for Lewis. Particularly in his imaginative literature-in his allegories, children's novels, and space triology -- it proved both a motivation and a recurring theme. What MacDonald had done for him, he hoped to do for his readers. For example, in his science-fiction novel, Out of the Silent Planet, Lewis wrote of Elwin Ransom, a Cambridge philologist who is kidnapped and taken to another planet. At the end of the story (and the story is a good one), Lewis adds a postscript. The narrator states, "It is time to remove the mask and to acquaint the reader with the real and practical purpose for which this book has been written." He then relates how Ransom himself suggested, after his return to earth, that they "publish in the form of fiction what would certainly not be listened to as fact." As Ransom explained it: "What we need for the moment is not so much a body of belief as a body of people familiarized with certain ideas. If we could even effect in one percent of our readers a change-over from the conception of Space to the conception of Heaven, we should have made a beginning."86 What happened to Ransom is what happened to Lewis himself. Ransom now saw "space" as "heaven." It was not a "black, cold vacuity" but an "empyrean ocean of radiance."87 What he discovered he desired all to know.

A second allusion to Lewis's own story is found in The Pilgrim's Regress, when Lewis portrays John hearing these words near the Canyon: "For this end I made your senses and for this end your imagination that you might see My face and live."88 Similarly, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lucy first discovers Narnia while playing in a wardrobe. When the other children ridicule her for claiming to have been in an-"other world," the wise professor chides them for not believing her testimony:

`Logic!' said the Professor half to himself. `Why don't they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn't tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.'89

At the end of the fantasy, after all the children have "played" their way into Narnia and returned the wiser, they ask the professor if they can't return to Narnia by the same route. Again the professor speaks for Lewis:

`You won't get into Narnia again by that route. . . . Eh? What's that? Yes, of course you'll get back to Narnia again some day. Once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia.. . . Indeed, don't try to get there at all. It'll happen when you're not looking for it. . . . Bless me, what do they teach them at these schools.'90

The players cannot manipulate their experiences to make them produce the numinous. They can only play, suggests Lewis, confident that Joy will come in its own season.

To give a final example, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lewis portrays the children sailing to the end of the world, hoping to reach the land of Aslan the lion. They finally come to that place where the earth meets the sky, and they wade ashore. Meeting a dazzlingly white lamb, they ask how they can get into Aslan's country. The lamb answers that they reach that place from their own world: " `There is a way into my country from all the worlds,' said the Lamb; but as he spoke his snowy white flushed into tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself, towering above them and scattering light from his mane." Aslan tells them that in their world " `I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.' "91

The preceding description of Berger's and Lewis's positions -should have made clear their differing views on play's "religious" impulse, but the difference is important enough to be reiterated. For here is one basic distinction that can be drawn between various theologies of play. Can theology be built solely out of certain natural experiences (like play) which are generally accessible to all people? Or is God's redeeming presence in the world, including his relationship with us as players, finally fully known only as it is experienced in his engendering relationship with us through Jesus Christ? Is it enough to believe that play's "signal" is rooted in God? Is it enough to hear "a rumor of angels"? Or is such "Joy" adequately known only through God's self-definition in Jesus Christ?

We noted that Berger admits that for him to speak of play's transcendent dimension as transcendence is an act of personal faith.. Berger believes, however, that such faith needs to be limited to projections outward from our common experiences and must rest at the stage of hypothesis. Lewis, on the other hand, is somewhat bolder in drawing implications from the ° transcendent" dimension of play. Play need not surprise an individual with joy, but it can. Furthermore, God's subsequent definition of himself in Jesus Christ allows Lewis the hindsight to call his experience of Joy in play an experience of the holy. Play's transcendent dimension, its experience of the meeting of the holy and the human spirit, is fully understood as transcendence only in light of the Spirit's further definitive work on Lewis's behalf, his introduction of Lewis to the person of Christ. Here the Spirit heard in play and the Spirit of Christ are seen to be one and the same. As Walter Hooper, Lewis's literary executor, rightly observes, "In Lewis the natural and the supernatural seemed to be one, to flow one into the other."92

By allowing us to transcend ourselves and enter a new time and space, play can become the avenue through which God communes with us. This is what the children in Lewis's Narnia tales discovered. In its push toward communion with others, play can be the context wherein one is first met by the Other. As the human spirit freely gives itself in the search for kindred spirits, i.e., for "I-Thou" relationships, that experience can be serendipitously transformed by the Holy Spirit. Thus play can become an encounter with the Holy. Seen in this way, listening to Mozart can be a theologically significant event, as it was for Barth -- though it need not be. And reading Ignazio Silone's novels is the opportunity to hear God speak pseudonymously, as it was for Robert McAfee Brown. And imagining the fantasy worlds of George MacDonald can result in being "surprised by joy," as it did for Lewis. Like Lewis, I do not want to compromise either God's freedom or the "purposelessness" of play by suggesting a necessary relationship between our play and the divine encounter. Rather, it is enough to suggest that in play God can, and often does, meet us and commune with us. The result is a new openness to the religious more generally, our experience of the sacred in play serving as a prolegomenon to further encounters with God.

What can be said to conclude this survey of present theological options open to the Christian at play? Should we, as Sam Keen would suggest, turn play into a total ideology, a new agenda, an alternate "work" strategy? Should we as Christians baptize that counterculture of self-fuifillers which Yankelovich documents so well? The result might well prove to be even more destructive both of our personhoods and of society's well-being than our present externally directed work agenda. Such romanticizing of life's possibilities runs roughshod over a necessary Christian realism. We are not to fiddle while Rome burns! On the other hand, we must also beware lest we reduce play to merely another political agenda. Play takes priority over all such programming. It is part of our God-intended humanity.

For the last part of his life, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from the horror of his World War lI prison cell, fully recognizing the serious political agenda he was committed to. Nevertheless, he had this to say about play in a letter to his friends Eberhard and Renate Bethge:

I wonder whether it is possible (it almost seems so today) to regain the idea of the Church as providing an understanding of the area of freedom (art, education, friendship, play), so that Kierkegaard's "aesthetic existence" would not be banished from the Church's sphere, but would be reestablished within it? I really think so. ... Who is there, for instance, in our times, who can devote himself with an easy mind to music, friendship, games, or happiness? Surely not the "ethical" man but only the Christian 93

The player who plots, even if it is for God and neighbor, is no longer playing. Play is not for the sake of anything else. It is part of that "area of freedom" which has its own justification, even in the most dire of times. And here C. S. Lewis can assist us in our understanding. If we would but play, we might be surprised by the joy of God himself. True, there is no guarantee that joy will occur. But God has made us creatures with the capacity for communion with him, not only in and through our work but also in and through our play. And in a time when work is proving increasingly sterile and defective, could it not be through our play that the serendipity of God's presence might most easily be experienced?

 

 

Notes

1. W. H. Auden, The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays (New York: Random House, 1948), p. 409.

2. Sam Keen, Apology for Wonder (New York: Harper & Row, 1969); Sam Keen, "Manifesto for a Dionysian Theology," m Transcendence, ed. Herbert W. Richardson and Donald R. Cutler (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), pp. 31-52; Sam Keen, To a Dancing God (New York: Harper & Row, 1970); Sam Keen and Anne Valley Fox, Telling Your Story: A Guide to Who You Are and Who You Can Be (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1973).

3. Jürgen Moltmann, " `How Can I Play, When I'm in a Strange Land?' ", The Critic, 29 (May-June 1971), 14-23; Jürgen Moltmann, "The First Liberated Men in Creation," in Theology of Play, responses by Robert E. Neale, Sam Keen, and David L. Miller (New York: Harper & Row, 1972). In Theology of Play, there is an interesting response to Moltmann's essay by Sam Keen entitled "godsong," and this in turn is followed by Moltmann's rebuttal, "Are there no rules of the Game?" Thus we have in this volume a brief but provocative dialogue between the theological left and the theological right on the topic of play.

4. Sam Keen, " `We Have No Desire to Strengthen the Ego or Make It Happy': A Conversation about Ego Destruction with Oscar Ichazo," Psychology Today, July 1973, p. 67.

5. Keen, Apology for Wonder, p. 130.

6. Ibid., p. 146.

7. Sam Keen, "Toward an Erotic Theology," in Theology and Body, ed. John Y. Fenton (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974), p. 21; cf. Sam Keen, "My New Carnality," Psychology Today, October 1970, p. 59.

8. Keen, "My New Carnality," p. 59.

9. Keen, Apology for Wonder, p. 164.

10. Keen, To a Dancing God, p. 71.

11. Keen and Fox, Telling Your Story, p. 3.

12. Keen, To a Dancing God, p. 131.

13. Sam Keen, "Sing the Body Electric," Psychology Today, October 1970, p. 56.

14. Keen discusses Homo Tempestivus as a model of the authentic person in Apology for Wonder, pp. 190-199.

15. Ibid., pp. 191, 192, 194, 195.

16. Ibid., p. 198.

17. Ibid., p. 201 (italics added). 18. Ibid., p. 203.

18. Ibid. p. 203

19. Keen, To a Dancing God, pp. 137, 22, 99, 37, 138, 5, 123, 145, 118-20.

20. This is Keen's basic prescription both in his first major article, "Hope in a Posthuman Era," The Christian Century, January 25, 1967, pp. 106-109, and in his book Apology for Wonder (i969).

21. Keen, "Hope in a Posthuman Era," pp. 107-108.

22. Keen, Apology for Wonder, pp. 145-149.

23. Ibid., p. 43.

24. Keen, To a Dancing God, pp. 99-100.

25. Ibid., p. 100.

26. Ibid., pp. 23, 144.

27. Keen and Fox, Telling Your Story, p. 29.

28. Keen, To a Dancing God, p. 159. Keen develops this theme in much of his writing for Psychology Today, where in such articles as "My New Carnality," "Sing the Body Electric," and " `We do not have bodies, we are our bodies,' " Keen enlarges upon the need for visceral psychology, suggesting that such therapeutic practices as rolfing, bioenergetics, sensory awareness training, oriental body disciplines, dance, and the Alexander technique might offer man a cure for his dis-ease. See these articles in Psychology Today, October 1970, pp. 59-61; October 1970, pp. 56-58, 88; and September 1973, pp. 65-73, 98.

29. Sam Keen, "Toward an Erotic Theology," p. 32; cf. Keen, To a Dancing God, pp. 159, 144.

30. Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational, trans. John W. Harvey (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958).

31. Keen, Apology for Wonder, p. 40.

32. Ibid., pp. 204, 210, 206, 211.

33. Keen, To a Dancing God, p. 136.

34. Ibid., p. 145.

35. Ibid., pp. 12, 22-23, 27, 104, 115-117, 126, 136, 142-143.

36. Ibid., p. 156.

37. Keen, Apology for Wonder, p. 175.

38. Keen, To a Dancing God, p. 79.

39. Keen and Fox, Telling Your Story, p. 68.

40. Jürgen Moltmann, "Freedom in the Light of Hope," baccalaureate sermon delivered at the Divinity School of Duke University, Durham, N.C., May 12, 1973, n.p.

41. Jürgen Moltmann, The Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology, trans. James W. Leitch (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), p. 17.

42. Jürgen Moltmann, "The Revelation of God and the Question of Truth," in Hope and Planning, trans. Margaret Clarkson (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), p. 15.

43. Jürgen Moltmann, "Hope and Planning," in Hope and Planning, pp. 178-199.

44. Moltmann, The Theology of Hope, p. 203; Moltmann, "The Revelation of God," p. 18; Jürgen Moltmann, "The Realism of Hope: The Feast of the Resurrection and the Transformation of the Present Reality," Concordia Theological Monthly, 40 (March 1969). 153.

45. Daniel L. Migliore, rev. of The Theology of Hope, by Jürgen Moltmann, Theology Today, 25 (October 1968), 388-389.

46. Moltmann's response to his critics does not seem to have been an intentional one in a primary way. Rather than viewing Moltmann's thought on play as developing chiefly out of a dialogue with American theology, it would be better to conclude that (1) his systematic interest in exploring the various ramifications of a theology of hope led him to investigate ecclesiology, which he found playful, and (2) his desire to counteract the seriousness of student revolutionaries, both in Germany and in America, led him into a consideration of play as an antidote. He does, however, dedicate his essay to Harvey Cox, whom he calls a partner in this discussion, and thus he seems to have been aware of the direction in which some wanted him to move. Cf. Moltmann, Pref., Theology of Play, p. vii.

47. Moltmann has returned briefly to consider certain aspects of play in two of his later writings. The Passion for Life: A Messianic Lifestyle (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978), pp. 50-81, treats the topics of friendship and of worship as feast. The Church in the Power of the Spirit (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), pp. 114-120, 261-275, takes up these same topics.

48. Moltmann, " `How Can I Play?' ", p. 14; cf. Moltmann, "The First Liberated Men," pp. 1-3.

49. Moltmann, "The First Liberated Men," p. 69.

50. Moltmann, " `How Can I Play?' ", pp. 16-18; cf. Moltmann, "The First Liberated Men," pp. 15-33.

51. Moltmann, "The First Liberated Men," pp. 33-34.

52. Ibid., pp. 43-45, 48, 58.

53. Ibid., pp. 48-49, 71, 36.

54. Moltmann, " `How Can I Play?' ", p. 16.

55. Moltmann, "The First Liberated Men," p.

56. Ibid., pp. 15-24.

57. Ibid., p. 19.

58. Ibid., pp. 23-24.

59. Jürgen Moltmann, "Introduction to Christian Theology," ed. M. Douglas Meeks, Lectures in Christian Theology given at the Divinity School of Duke University, Durham, N.C., 1968, p. 241. Cf. Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, p. 269.

60. Moltmann, " `How Can I Play?' ", pp. 14, 16; cf. Moltmann, The First Liberated Men," pp. 13, 71.

61. Che Guevara, quoted in Jürgen Moltmann, "God in Revolution," in Religion, Revolution, and the Future, trans. M. Douglas Meeks (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969), p. 143.

62. Moltmann, "The First Liberated Men," p. 13.

63. Moltmann, "God in Revolution," p. 14

64. Moltmann, "The First Liberated Men," p. 13.

65. T. S. Eliot, The Dry Salvages, V (27-33), in Four Quartets (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1943), p. 27.

66. Peter L. Berger, A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Anchor Books, 1970), p. 47. In The Heretical Imperative: Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirmation (Garden City: N.Y.: Doubleday, Anchor Books, 1980), Berger again takes up his argument concerning the possibility of religious belief in our modern age. As in A Rumor of Angels, Berger's interest continues to be in the ways modern man "can try to uncover and retrieve the experiences embodied in [his religious] tradition" (p. xi). Moreover, in his preface he states he has in no way changed his mind about the need to follow an inductive approach to explore the "signals of transcendence" to be found in human experience (P. ix).

67. Berger, A Rumor of Angels, pp. 52-53.

68. Ibid., pp. 57-60,64.

69. Ibid., pp. 76, 83.

70. Ibid., p. 89.

71. Berger, The Heretical Imperative, p. 58.

72. For a perceptive critique of Berger's theological "objectivity," see Gregory Baum, "Peter L. Berger's Unfinished Symphony," Commonweal, May 9, 1980, pp. 263-270: "In this argument then, it is Peter Berger who is imprisoned in modernity. Judged by the dominant biblical understanding of divine transcendence, Otto's idea of the Holy (which Berger adopts) and Berger's sacred canopy are not transcendent at all! ... In the Christian religion, theologians have argued, the doctrine that in Jesus Christ God is present to men and that the Holy Spirit transforms the face of the earth means that men need not leave history to encounter the transcendent God" (p. 267).

73. -C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Harvest Books, 1955), pp. 170, 72, 168.-,

74. Ibid., pp. 238, 180-181.

75. Cf. C. S. Lewis. "Christianity and Culture," reprinted in C. S. Lewis, Christian Reflections, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1967), p, 23. Cf. the comment of Ransom, Lewis's protagonist in his science-fiction novel, Out of the Silent Planet (New York: Macmillan, 1965), p. 32: " `Space' [was] a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they-swam.... He had thought it barren: he saw now that it was the womb of worlds, whose blazing and innumerable offspring looked down nightly even upon the earth with so many eyes-and here, with how many more! No: Space was the wrong name. Older thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply the heavens-the heavens which declared the glory."

76. Ibid., p. 34. Cf. C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961), p. 19. In Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1964), p. 90, Lewis describes this process as running "back up the sunbeam to the sun."

77. C. S. Lewis, "On Stories," in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, ed. C. S. Lewis (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1966), pp. 103. 101.

78. C. S. Lewis, "On Three Ways of Writing for Children," reprinted in C. S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds, ed. Walter Hooper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1966), p. 30.

79. C. S. Lewis, Introd., George MacDonald: An Anthology, by George MacDonald, ed. C. S. Lewis (New York: Macmillan, 1954), pp. 16-17.

80. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, p. 179.

81. Ibid., pp. 220, 180; Lewis, Introd., George MacDonald, pp. 16-17. Cf. Lewis's remarks in "The Weight of Glory": "The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust in them; it was not in them, it only came through them and what came through them was longing, these things-the beauty, the memory of our own past-are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken far the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols. ... For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited." C. S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory" and Other Addresses (New York; Macmillan, 1949), pp. 4-5.

82. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, pp. 180, 220.

83. Cf. C. S. Lewis's comment: "I do not think the resemblance between the Christian and the merely imaginative experience is accidental. I think that all things, in their way, reflect heavenly truth, the imagination not the least." Quoted in Peter Kreeft, C. S. Lewis: A Critical Essay (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1969), p. 30.

84. Lewis, Surprised by joy, p. 179.

85. Ibid., p. 238.

86. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, p. 167.

87. Ibid., pp. 29-30.

88. C. S. Lewis, The Pilgrim's Regress (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1958), p. 171.

89. C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (New York: Macmillan, Collier Books, 1970), pp. 42-45.

90. Ibid., pp. 185-186.

91. C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (New York: Macmillan, Collier Books, 1970), p. 209.

92. Walter Hooper, "On C. S. Lewis and the Narnian Chronicles," quoted in Eliane Tixier, "Imagination Baptized, or, `Holiness' in the Chronicles of Narnia," in The Longing for a Form: Essays on the Fiction

of C. S. Lewis, ed. Peter Schakel (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1979), p. 143.

93. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, enl. ed., ed. Eberhard Bethge (New York: Macmillan, 1971), p. 198.shrub164

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