Saved by Play

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by Rev Michelle Scott-Huffman

In his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, Stuart Brown writes “I don’t think it is too much to say that play can save your life. It certainly has salvaged mine. Life without play is a grinding, mechanical existence organized around doing the things necessary for survival. Play is the stick that stirs the drink. It is the basis of all art, games, books, sports, movies, fashion, fun, and wonder—in short, the basis of what we think of as civilization. Play is the vital essence of life. It is what makes life lively.” This week we’ll explore some benefits of play in our lives and imagine how we might cultivate playful growth as a community.

The opening words are Sing for justice, Sway in hope, Play with Purpose, by Rev. Gretchen Haley.

Whatever beat
is moving through
your bones
Whatever holy disturbance
is rising in your chest
Whatever good word
you’ve got
for the good
of the whole
Clap it,
Snap it
Bring it out
Call it out
Take the beat
Add to it
Change it
Make it yours
Gathered here
in this
sweet beauty
Bring all that you are
let it out
Let us not waste this time
Let us make
a joyful noise
a more interesting
a fuller call
a greater yes
say it with me
Call out hello
and amen
and YES
Sing for justice
Sway in hope
Play with purpose
This time is precious
You are precious
and all of us
this chance
is a gift
Each breath
is a gift
Being all together
is a gift
Let’s celebrate
find a new rhythm
write a new song
make a new march
For this longing
this dreaming,
this discovery
For the urgent call of this day
For courageous love
Let it ring out
Let us worship together

Bicycle Ride
By Alexander Gretchaninoff
Public Domain Work
Performed by Eva Riebold

I love the playful spirit of this piece, and I’m grateful that our current way of being together allows us to enjoy Eva’s beautiful performance even as she is away and off from her duties as accompanist at the moment.

For me, this piece evokes the sensations of long summer bike rides through my neighborhood as a child. I can almost hear the pumping of the pedals, climbing and cresting a hill, and gliding down.

By sheer coincidence, my older brother Rob, who spoke to us last year about Imagination, wrote this lovely piece about Play right as we begin this theme together. He shares his thoughts so beautifully here that I will leave you with his words instead of any more of mine:

  • Emily McKinney, Music Director

On the Swing
by Alexander Gretchaninoff
Public Domain Work
Performed by Eva Riebold

The Water is Wide
Trad. Scottish, Public Domain
Performed by Paul Phariss and Rebecca Holt

Water tends to bring out the playfulness in people, even adults. Please enjoy this beautiful performance by Paul and Rebecca with gratitude for their willingness to share.

This particular folk song has muddy origins (no pun intended!) and perhaps represents a fine example of humans at play, with its many variants of lyrics, themes, and even tunes across time and geographic regions. You can read more about that here:

  • Emily McKinney, Music Director

Crawdad Song
Traditional American
Performed by Paul Phariss and Rebecca Holt

This song evokes memories of romping in creeks, streams, and rivers as a child and watching out for pinch-y crawdads, seeing how close one could safely get to one before retreating.

You can read about the origins of the song here:

And here is a link to the “play parties” mentioned in the first article:

How interesting to note that even when religious restrictions tried to limit people’s play, people still found ways to come together for Play. I’m grateful to be part of this particular community, where we can celebrate all the beautiful, playful expressions of humanity together.

As an aside, ongoing environmental degradation is harming the biodiversity in our local waterways, meaning future generations may not have the same experiences of creeks and streams teaming with fish and crawdads. I’m grateful that this community encourages me to play, and to practice good stewardship of our shared environment, both.

Thank you, Paul and Rebecca, for delighting us with your Play!

  • Emily McKinney, Music Director

The closing words are Rules of the Game, by Rev. Scott Tayler

Kick the ball.
Dance in the rain.
Get lost on purpose.
Play fetch with the dog.
Fly the kite.
Smell the flowers.
Jump in the puddle.
Pull out the paints.
Throw the dice.
Learn the two-step.
Let life take you by the hand.
Lean back and let the wind mess up your hair.