“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
[Of course, the kind of play that Jack had in mind in The Shining is not what I have in mind here. :-)]
Perhaps that originated as a Puritan excuse for recreation. I don’t know. It seems like a justification, but play needs no justification anymore than work does. Both are built into creation. God created playfulness.
Indeed, God is playfulness; his wisdom creates with delight, joy and play. Personified Divine Wisdom in Proverbs 8 not only describes herself as a “master worker” but also as one who daily rejoices (shahak) as she delights in the creation (Provers 8:30-31). Divine wisdom is not all work and no play.
The Hebrew word shahak has a wide variety of meanings from playing on an instrument to laughing another to scorn (mocking); from recreational sports to laughing with joy. And it is a term used to describe the playfulness of creation, both the fish of the sea and the beasts of the field. There is a time to weep, says the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 3, but there is also a time to “laugh” (shahak).
In Yahweh’s description of the Behemoth (perhaps a mythologically sized hippopatmus—Egyptian iconography pictures Horus fighting such an animal), God declares sovereignty over the animal (Job 40:19-20, NRSV). “Only the Maker can approach it with the sword.” Part of this sovereignty is that the “mountains yield food for it where all the wild animals play (shahak).
Also in Psalm 104, the Leviathan (also pictured in Job 41) is Yahweh’s proud example of the creatures of the sea in his aquarium. Wherever ships go upon the sea—wherever humans go—God has already created fish (particularly the Leviathan) to “sport” (shahak) in it” (NRSV) or “frolic” there (NIV).
God enjoys, as we do, the playfulness of his creatures. Who cannot smile as they watch otters play in the water?
Certainly “work”—priestly service in God’s temple of creation—is part of divine intent. We see it in the Garden. This is the dignity of work, careers and jobs. It is the task we have been given as we participate in the missio Dei.
But play is also part of that creation. Creation is not only a workplace but a playground.
The eschatological vision—the restoration and renewal of the heavens an earth, the return of God to Zion in the New Jerusalem—includes play. When God again dwells with his people in Jerusalem, “the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing (shahak) in its streets” (Zechariah 8:5, NRSV). On that day, according to Jeremiah 31:4, God will rebuild Jerusalem and the people of God will take up tambourines and enjoy the city in playful dance (shahak; literally, “the dances of play/sport/laughter”).
All work and no play makes creation a dull place.
Now, Cubbies, “play [some good] ball”!