Via Positiva: Cosmic Kindergarten
Deep Play

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Preached on Sunday, September 9, 2012 at Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, SC

Readings:
Isaiah 35:4-7: "they shall obtain joy and gladness ..."
Mark 7:24-37: "Be opened."
Rumi: "Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment."
  Hear this sermon at the Jubilee! Circle Web site.

In 2010, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge released her 10th studio album called "Fearless Love." The title was suggested to her by her daughter, and she wrote the title track about kissing a girl for the first time when she was 17-years-old. She also realized that love was something others wouldn't understand, so it became a fearful kind of love. So, this song is one that longs for something we all want - a fearless, unbridled kind of love. Let's sing it:

When I woke up I was 17
You kissed my lips in a bad, bad dream
Showed me things aren't what they appear to be
Called me angel and set me free
You gave me life in the cold, cold dark
But you ran away in the mornings spark
Made me think that reality
Is not where I want to be
I am what I am and I am what I am afraid of
Oh what am I afraid of

I need a fearless love
Don't need to fear the end
If you can't hold me now
You will never hold me again
I want to live my life
Pursuing all my happiness
I want a fearless love I won't settle for anything less

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do during recess was get into one of the swings and swing back and forth, getting higher and higher with each pump. I loved to feel the wind in my hair, to hear the "squeak, squeak" of the chain as I flew back and forth. But, what I loved most was to get that swing going so high that it seemed that I would flip right over the railing. But, the very best part was, when the swing reached the highest point in its forward swing, I would jump out of the swing.

That feeling of being airborne, even if just for a few seconds, was one of the most exhilarating feelings I have ever known. Those few seconds of freedom, when you seem to defy gravity itself, before executing that perfect bent-knee landing. For some reason, kids just know how to land so they don't hurt themselves. We could always perfectly stick that landing after flying off of that swing.

There was, of course, the variation on this schoolyard trick. You could release yourself from the swing on the backward arch, and just enjoy that wild plummet to the ground. Either way, for a few fleeting moments, you were flying. There was never a deeper joy for me than simply flying through the air with the greatest of ease.

It never occurred to me that I could get hurt. Oh, the grownups told you to be careful, but you were careful when you leapt into thin air from the swing - you knew how to leave at the right moment and how to hit the ground - as a kid, you just knew. You trusted yourself, you trusted the swing, you trusted the air, and in the end, you trusted the ground.

This is the joy of watching children play. They are fearless. They'll do anything. They don't just play with their minds, they play with their entire bodies, throwing themselves in the air to catch a ball, or sliding into home plate with abandon. They run, they jump, and never give any thought to being careful. They live recklessly. Sometimes they get hurt - they suffer bumps and bruises and even broken bones. But, when you're a kid that my slow you down, but it never stops you. You play through the pain. You can't wait to get back on the playground and try it all again.

Fearless.

When do we lose that? It seems like one day we wake up, and we're afraid of jumping off the swing. We'll let the ball go by us instead of stretching our bodies to catch it. We'll take the out instead of trying to wipe out the catcher guarding home plate. At some point, fear overtakes us.

At some point, we become afraid of being hurt, of putting ourselves in risky situations. At some point we stop trusting ourselves, we stop trusting the swing, we stop trusting the air, we definitely stop trusting the ground. At some point, we become the adult recess monitors telling children not to jump off the swings because we are afraid ... not because the kids are afraid.

At some point in life, fear seems to overtake us. The need to be "safe" overrules our innate sense of play, that innate sense of wonder that is ready to take risks to get the high that life can offer us when we're willing put our whole selves on the line to experience that rush.

Safety is something we all crave, but often we willing sell our wonder to buy. That, Jubilants, is a high price to pay. Instead, as Rumi tells us, we must sell our cleverness to purchase bewilderment. That's the only way to buy back our fearless love.

I've walked my path had worlds collide
I lost my way and I fooled my pride
This lover's ache wouldn't feel so strange
If I could only change
But I am what I am and I am what I am afraid of
So what am I afraid of?

I need a fearless love
Don't need to fear the end
If you can't hold me now
You will never hold me again
I want to live my life
Pursuing all my happiness
I want a fearless love I won't settle for anything less

"Say to those who are of a fearful heart, 'Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.' Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes."

Hear the good news, today, Jubilants. As the prophet Isaiah told those ancient Hebrews so long ago, he speaks still to us today: We are not created to live in fear.

Be strong, do not fear! The Holy is with us. We are called to live a fearless love, to live fully into the love that opens our eyes, opens our ears, rejuvenates our bodies, gives us the right words to say, and renews creation.

Swing as high as you can on the swing set of life, Jubilants, and then ... let go.

I need a fearless love
Don't need to fear the end
If you can't hold me now
You will never hold me again
I want to live my life
Pursuing all my happiness
I want a fearless love I won't settle for anything less

Now I'm not here to lay the blame
I understand when you hold a flame
Heads will shake heads will turn
And sometimes you just get burned

I want a fearless love ohh
I need a fearless love I want a fearless love
Don't need to fear the end
Ohh if you can't hold me now
You will never hold me again
I want to live my life
Pursuing all my happiness
I want a fearless love I won't settle for anything, anything less
oh I need a fearless love I won't settle for anything less
ohh I want a fearless love.... I won't settle for anything less

Our second song is one we've sung many times before as our opening song. "Magic Penny" was written by Malvina Reynolds, a folk singer-songwriter and political activist. She wrote songs for Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and The Seekers. This is one of her children's songs and we know it well, so let's sing it:


[Chorus] Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

[Verse 1] It's just like a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you won't have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you'll have so many
They'll roll all over the floor.

In our Jesus story, we find our guy in full-on healing mode as he tours around the areas of Sidon and Tyre.

His first encounter is with a woman whose daughter was sick with an unclean spirit, as the scriptures tell us. She had heard about his healing ways and she came to him immediately, and "bowed down at his feet."

The scripture is quick to point out the scandalous nature of this meeting. It would be scandalous enough if a Jewish woman approached Jesus in this way, but this woman was as the scripture tells us, "a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin." Gentiles, of course, were considered unclean by the Jews - a damned people who lived outside of God's chosen tribe. Jews had nothing to do with Gentiles, so this woman had a lot of nerve to approach Jesus at all.

I believe that this woman, in this deeply risky act, is engaging in deep play before Jesus and his disciples. In her book, "Deep Play," Diane Ackerman says the original meaning of play - the word "plegan" - means "to risk, chance, expose oneself to hazard."

"Play's original purpose," she writes, "was to make a pledge to someone or something by risking one's life. Who or what might that someone or something be? Possibilities abound, including a relative, a tribal leader, a god, or a moral trait such as honor or courage. At its heart, plegan reverberated with ethical or religious values. It also contained the idea of being tightly fastened or engaged. Soon plegan became associated with performing a sacred act or administering justice, and it often appeared in ceremonies."

As kids, we had it right all along, Jubilants. We knew that deep within play there is always risk - and often we would risk our very lives to experience it. Then we grew up and we became afraid to really play, because deep play demands that empty ourselves and put everything we are on the line in pursuit of truly being alive.

This woman understood, deeply what "plegan" is all about. She poured herself out - she emptied herself before Christ. Just by opening her mouth and speaking she breaks all the rules ... but she breaks them all for love, for the love of her daughter. Often out of desperation we connect with true love - she didn't know what else to do to get her daughter healed, so she broke all the rules and approached this mystical Jewish man to ask for help.

Jesus, too, he breaks the rules. He could have demanded this woman be punished for approaching him, but instead, he helps her. Yes, he asks her a pointed question, and even seems to call her a "dog," but while he may be testing her faith, he was showering her in love.

He is acknowledging the depth of her love, the depth of her ability to play, by pointing out to anyone within hearing range just how hard it was for her to ditch societal taboos and even ask for this healing. Through these healings he shows that love is not just reserved for your own - you can't hoard love simply for your own kind, your own tribe, your own peeps.

Instead, love is only something when it's given away. "Be opened," Jesus said as he healed the deaf mute and it's exactly what he continues to say today. To heal our own blindness to the world's ills, to heal our own inability to speak words of love into this world, Jesus calls us to "be opened," to give away our love wastefully - to be an open channel from which the Holy flows from us into this world. Only when we give love away does it turn into something more. Only when we pour ourselves out can we be truly full of life.

Breathe deeply.

[Verse 2] Money's dandy and we like to use it,
But love is better if you don't refuse it.
It's a treasure and you'll never lose it
Unless you lock up your door.

[Chorus] Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

When I went to Asheville recently to prepare for my ordination as a Jubilee! minister, I experienced an adult who has yet to forget the real meaning of deep play. As I arrived at Howard Hanger's house - the 15-bedroom manse he calls Hanger Hall - I was greeted by a man who so thoroughly embodies deep play, that it has taken me a few weeks to really process the gift he gave me in those few days I spent with him.

You see, I had this adult idea that I was there to learn - to learn how Jubilee! did its stuff - how it did its business and its membership class and how it grew to its size in the 23 years it's been around. We had a loose, and I emphasize "loose," schedule that Howard kept changing.

On Thursday, Howard said: "Well, we had it down that we would go to Chris' mountain house on Friday night, but let's do the drum circle and dinner instead.

"OK," I said. That was fine with me, but I was beginning to get a little bit irritated with this whole process because, while we had a few conversations around the business end of Jubilee and membership classes, there had been no formal sort of instruction. There were no seminars, lectures or book learnin'. Instead, there were parties. Every night.

People streamed into Hanger Hall, wine bottles in hand. We gathered in Howard's bedroom where a large public meeting space sits right next to his elegant bed. The chairs are arranged in a circle. In the center is a round table. Like Jubilee! in microcosm right there in Howard's bedroom.

There, in his most intimate space, people gathered, chatted, mingled, and by the end of the evening, Howard would belly up to his piano, and we'd hold hands and sing, or dance, or clap, but always laughing and smiling. It left me entertained, but also a bit peeved. Didn't I come here to learn the ins and outs of Jubilee? What's up with all the partying?

It took me a few days after I left Asheville to realize that Howard had been teaching me from day one. Just like Mr. Miagi taught the Karate Kid how to fight by painting fences and waxing cars, Howard offering me a deep lesson about what it means to be Jubilee. You see, Howard still believes in magic - that magic that makes you dance and sing, that magic that can set you free.

To practice that kind of magic means learning the art of deep play. It means being fully, totally, and completely open to the magic of the Holy in every single action we take. Whether it's making morning coffee, drinking wine with friends, or even in that glorious moment in the midst of the drinking and dancing when he served communion in the form of a big tub of ice cream and some spoons for us all to share - deep play means living and breathing the Holy in every single moment of the day. This is the deep play Howard Hanger lives in. He has so integrated the art of deep play that he embodies it in everything he does. Howard swings as high as he can on the swings of life and keeps jumping off, every single day of his life.

Breathe deeply.

[Chorus] Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

I wish now, that I had paid closer attention and had understood in the moment that he was teaching me a new way to connect with the Holy, and the only way to actually create a Jubilee. Deep play, Jubilants, is how we truly take in the Holy, and give it back to the world.

Author Cynthia Bourgeault calls this deep play connection to God "kenosis" which is a Greek word that means "letting go" or "to empty oneself."

"Love is something if you give it away," because it is in the giving away that it becomes something more.

This is how Jesus lived and how Jesus calls us to live - he poured himself out, he gave his very life for love. In every moment, he never hoarded anything, never kept anything for himself. Instead, he gave love away in every moment, just as Howard gave love away at every moment. Like one of Jesus' disciples, I was confused by this reckless sort of love. I expected Howard to get down to business in a way I was familiar with, but in each moment he kept drawing me back into the mystery and the awe - into the magic of the Holy - by giving himself to me in every moment. How thick I was, waiting for the crumbs from the table while the love flowed so freely.

As Bourgeault writes: "It was not love stored up but love utterly poured out that opened the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven. Over and over, Jesus lays out the path before us. There is nothing to be renounced or resisted. Everything can be embraced, but the catch is to cling to nothing. You let it go. That's the kenotic path in a nutshell. Very, very simple. It only costs everything."

It only costs everything. No wonder I was confused. I was not ready to give everything for love, to give everything to create the kind of community that Howard and his other kenotic path kin have laid out before us.

The question for us today, Jubilants, is this, are we ready to give it all away? Are we ready to live our lives in a state of deep play where all of life flows through us and none of it is hoarded? Are we ready to invite people into our most intimate spaces where the Holy can feed them through us? Are we ready to dance with the world right next to our own beds, and offer the world a tub of sweetness with barely enough spoons to go around, but realize that nobody minds sharing?

Are we really ready, Jubilants, to put on the mind of Christ, to realize Christ isn't here to save us from anything except our own selfishness, our own self-centeredness? Are we ready to live every single moment of our lives in deep play?

Only when we are ready to take the necessary risks to play deeply - to give it all away, Jubilants - only then, will Jubilee! appear. Oh, Yeah.

[Verse 3] So let's go dancing till the break of day,
And if there's a piper, we can pay.
For love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

[Chorus] Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

Oh, Yeah!

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at http://www.bulletproofbook.com. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at editor-at-whosoever.org or by using the suggestion box.

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