play / reflections

put down your weapons and play

I’m working on playing these days, which I realize is a bit contradictory.

Because the point of playing is kind of that you’re not working.

So we’re doing this the best way we can, which is one step and then another, breathe and pay attention; wild, hollering runs through empty fields also encouraged.

It was a year or so ago that I encountered a term that I picked up with delight and I have held close to me, like a secret treasure that I hide in my pocket and pull out to look at on occasion. The phrase is “otium sanctum”: it’s Latin and the general translation is “holy leisure”. I don’t actually know Latin and sometimes I leave the term hidden for too long and it dissolves in my head into “otitis sanctum”, which is a “holy ear infection” and nothing I want any part of.

But “holy leisure”, that has some possibilities.

Except that, like working on playing, they seem like contradictory terms.

Would holy leisure look like copying Bible verses by hand, in a meticulous, but leisurely manner — perhaps in a recliner? Or maybe it is watching a movie in that recliner, as long as it is a Christian one? Maybe it is playing badminton outside in the lawn? That seems the sort of thing theological types who know Latin and Greek might do on a Sunday afternoon.

If we get super relaxed about the concept — and maybe that is the whole idea — perhaps it can include things like creating art or going for a walk or reading a book or laughing with friends over the dinner table.

A lot of it seems to hinge on what exactly is meant by leisure, a term I’ve relegated to a photogenic elderly couple sitting on cruise boat deck chairs, or maybe playing tennis at the country club. “Otium” is kind of an abstract term, they say. It carries the idea of leisure — resting, playing, eating, that sort of thing — but there’s sometimes the idea of retirement or withdrawing from one’s daily business for the pursuit of fun (or enlightening) activity.

But here’s what I found fascinating: the term was originally a military concept in early Roman culture of laying down one’s weapons.

Laying down your weapons.

That is exactly it. I wake up each morning ready to fight. I’ve established a strategic plan and picked up my weapons of choice even before I’ve daintily drunk my first cup of tea.

My arsenal is full of choices: determination, procrastination, angry words, more research, finding balance, figuring things out, making plans, trying to control people/situations, avoiding people, more rules, more discipline, more cookies, more exercise.

And that just gets me through the first couple hours.

I don’t even know what I’m fighting half the time, or why. I just know if I don’t do it, the Empire will fall and it will be my fault. At least, that’s how it seems.

And, you know, sometimes things do need to get done. Sometimes we need things like discipline and taking action; some of our battles need to happen and some of our weapons are pretty useful tools.

But after the battle is over — or maybe even in the middle of it — it’s time to lay down our weapons.

I am not entirely sure how to do that all the time. Or even if we need to do it all the time. When I am feeling busy and overwhelmed, do I just wait until that passes? Do I schedule play time? Do I hurry and get the task over with? Or is there something that needs to happen inside my heart and mind?

Here’s to learning how to put down my weapons and play.


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