When I was child, it seemed like I could spend all day playing. The games varied depending upon materials and the availability of friends, but it seems that one of the hallmarks of being young is the ability to transform the most mundane of situations into a game. There is something magical about play, the ability to integrate thought and desire in a dramatic interplay of fantasy and reality.
In a certain sense, I would say that it is an important precursor to prayer. Like play, prayer requires a certain forgetting of limitations and the ability to look past surface reality. Play involves entering into a world of fantasy. In a similar way, prayer requires that we set aside appearances to enter into reality, a reality that can only be discovered through Divine Revelation.
There is more we can learn from play. Without the spontaneity of play, prayer becomes a fossilized set of rituals and habits that are performed without the least bit of inspiration. Play teaches us that entering into the drama of prayer is about much more than external action. It involves a kind of investment and engagement as well as a flexibility that opens us to the world of intuition. Our prayer can be a place of spiritual play in which we explore our experience with a sense of curiosity and adventure.
All of this is done in the context of intimacy with Jesus Christ. In the beginning, we can be clumsy at prayer. We might try different things and they seem dull or uncomfortable. However, by diligent practice, we soon grow accustomed to this new kind of play. Our hearts learn to listen and respond to Jesus with the same boundless wonder we possessed as children. We become little in our joy at this new game, this delicate dance with the Holy Spirit.
So today, let us approach prayer like little children. Let us pray with the intensity and creativity of a child at play, letting our hearts go where the Spirit leads.