Playtime

Life is about play at least much as it's about work.

I say this because the month of May inexorably reminds me of it. In a funny way, May is a more elfin and playfully subversive month than all the others, including the months more traditionally associated with goofing off like August (summer vacation) or December (Christmas vacation). For while other months (such as November and February) mind their manners and even encourage us to stay indoors and attend to work and school, May is the month that keeps peeping in at the window while the teacher is trying to hold the attention of his increasingly distracted students. While teacher lectures about economic theory or the rise of materialism in 20th Century culture, May stands outside the window behind teacher, tossing a softball in the air and beckoning us with a baseball gloved to hand to sneak out and join in the frivol. It is the month that eternally frustrates all those with some mechanical notion that It's All About the Money or that Everything is Electricity or that we must devote ourselves to the Gospel According to Business School.

May is designed to remind us what life is really all about. It is a sort of sacrament of the Sabbath, here to remind us that there is something fundamentally irrational about being merely rational, something fundamentally illogical about being merely logical. It whispers that the Bottom Line isn't the bottom line and we are being wildly wasteful if we are trying to be merely economical. For there is in the very idea of Creation something extravagant, artistic and playful. God, after all, didn't have to create anything. He was under no economic necessity and he has never been constrained by worries about Resource Distribution and Time Management. If he needs more Resources, he just makes them ex nihilo. If he needs time, hey! he makes more, it's free. Creation, says Robert Farrar Capon, is radically unnecessary.

Which means that if God does not create for a reason there is only one other explanation: he creates for love. He creates just because he wants to. He creates as an artist creates, not as a Production Engineer creates. He creates because May is a lovely thing, not because May is a necessary thing. And we, who are made in his image, therefore are missing the entire point of the whole extravagant show if we focus exclusively on economics or the machinery of government and never get it into our hearts that these little stopgap measures are no more the central story of existence than the chemistry of paint is the central story of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Not that work doesn't matter, mind you. It does. But it matters because of us, not we because of it. For we too are not necessary and exist because God just thought it would be fun to have us around. Therefore, work is dignified because we do it. But so is play. Some people think play is just stuff we do when we aren't doing real things like work. In reality, both work and play are made real by us, who are the only things, says Pope John Paul II, which God has created for our own sakes. This means, among other things, that there is a real place for delight in sheer play, in games, in songs, in baseball and lemonade and that sunny day peeping in over the shoulder of our grim economics tutor.

So be sensible by being a little silly. Do your homework, be responsible, and attend to business. But remember that the ultimate business of life is joy for, as C.S. Lewis once said, "Joy is the serious business of heaven."

Copyright 2001 - Mark P. Shea