Summer is a time for everyone to enjoy some play time — children, and especially adults. (Maureen Weber photo)
The following editorial, titled “Vacation time” by Rev. Andrew Britz, OSB, was published in the July 19, 2000, issue of the Prairie Messenger and is included in Chapter 4: The Human Struggle, from Rule of Faith: as we worship, so we believe, so we live.
Many of us are foolish enough to believe we don’t need a vacation. Only the immature, we tell ourselves, need to get away. If we are truly altruistic, we proclaim self-congratulatingly, we can continue unabated in building up the kingdom given us in Jesus Christ — a Jesus, we conveniently forget, who knew how to play and party.
Yes, the Gospels tell us that Jesus was often invited to parties. That likely would never have happened had the Lord had a reputation of being a sourpuss who took his work too seriously and thus hindered party-goers from enjoying themselves.
Those of us who are too important to take time off tend to suffocate those around us as we heroically strive to prove that we are above needing a holiday.
Pope John Paul II often broke the established papal tradition. For instance, it’s hard to imagine a Pius XII or a Paul VI taking a holiday. Not so John Paul II! Throughout his pontificate he has taken holidays — usually to commune with nature. Most of his holidays have been a couple of weeks in the mountains, but he has also taken off time to go boating in Poland. While in Canada he took time off to wander alone in the forest.
Holidays are a great time to catch up on the playing we miss in our busy-ness. Play is not only for the young. Everyone must play; the child within each of us must never be allowed to die.
Jesuit Father Karl Rahner, almost universally recognized as the best theologian at the Second Vatican Council and during the critically important post-conciliar period, “took time off” from studying traditional holy matters to write a special treatise on play.
He taught that if we remember to play as children do, as the child in us would suggest, our play will bind us together in community. Play unites the skilled and the not-so-skilled, the younger and the older, the extroverts and the introverts. In a word, it bypasses all the things adults deem important.
But play also insists on exposing something we adults often try desperately to hide. Rahner believed play is essential in exercising us for death. Play pushes us to the limits — with the distinct possibility that we will come out the loser.
Only adults who have lost the art of playing would try to teach peewees that it is great to win 17 to one. If children organize their playing, they make the sides as equal as possible.
Vacation time frees us from our bondage to usefulness, the notion that we have value only when we are doing something productive. God has planted the child within each of us precisely so we can have the wisdom to play, to be at times perfectly useless.
Such wisdom concerning play, in fact, underpins the whole of creation. In Proverbs, Wisdom declares lightheartedly about the creative process: “I was beside the master craftsman, a daily delight for him, ever at play in his presence, at play everywhere in the world, delighting in the human race” (Prv 8:30-31).
Many parents are not wise enough to play with their children. Grandparents more often are. It is not so much that grandparents suddenly have time on their hands. It is more a matter of gaining wisdom, that precious wisdom that comes only with age, that enables grandparents to do what they failed to do as parents, to play with the younger members of their extended family.
O, the joy of being perfectly useless! One is reminded of the press conference René Levesque called after he had resigned as leader of the Parti Québécois. He was asked if the party would survive without him. With that mischievous twinkle in his eye for which he was famous Levesque gave his answer. He said he was not sure — but there was one thing about which he was certain: On the way to the press conference, he said, he passed by a cemetery filled with irreplaceable people.
Such is the wisdom of those who know how to play, who know how to smother their pride and take a vacation!