Imagination, Play and Prophecy

This last week I’ve been reflecting on play.

There’s been a number of dimensions to this. Firstly, in these recessional times is it not high time to deconstruct the Protestant work ethic and find value in other aspects of life? Secondly, how to we respond to the emphasis on imagination, play and gaming in postmodern culture? Thirdly, is there a place for playfulness in religion?

Now, just off the cuff I would answer these three questions with: yes, with imagination and yes.

But I pause … what would God say? In the scriptures, where is imagination, where is play?

Well, here’s some samples:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. (Acts 2:17)

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with cane in hand because of his age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” (Zechariah 8:4-6)

The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:7-9)

Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. (Pslam 33:3)

And my conclusion? Imagination, play and prophecy are highly interlinked. Again and again, play is linked to song and joy and celebration. Again and again they are associated with the question, what would the world look like if justice and harmony reigned instead of injustice and discord? Again and again we are invited to dream dreams and trust the God who transcends our imaginations. And more, our imaginations are to be unleashed and extended by God’s imagination.

Approached this way, theology is an act of imagination, eucharist is an act of play. We are called to act as if the impossible is indeed possible. So, imagination a new story, play a new song, this is the way of Jesus.

6 thoughts on “Imagination, Play and Prophecy

  1. Both Tolkien and Lewis would be right there with you. Creativity that is pleasing to God has a sense of joy and lightness along with the practicality of it. I think this is why art and music are so important to humans, whereas they appear to have no “real” function.
    Beauty, in all its expressions, is an important part of worship. We have, unfortunately, had our “ideas” of beauty corrupted … and Tolkien would have lots to say about that too.
    Have you read his “Leaf by Niggle”?
    Anyway, this is why I believe fantasy is so important (realizing that there is both good and poor quality, now) — and why it is so important especially to children, who have not lost their sense of awe and wonder.
    …I could go on and on about this… ;^)
    Appreciate you, Matt … and glad for your children!


  2. Even art and music can be taken oh so seriously though. So I think there’s some need for teaching on play and some playful teaching.
    Haven’t read Leaf by Niggle. What’s it about?


  3. Coming from a non-Christian and Pagan perspective, I have to admit that I’ve always liked the verse/paragraph in the Charge of the Goddess that (1) called for Her worship to be in the heart of anyone who rejoiced, (2) declared all acts of love and pleasure to be Her rituals, and (3) called for both MIRTH and reverence.


  4. Yes, I must admit the playfulness I see amongst some Pagans is attractive. I prompts me to reflect on the feasting of Jesus and wonder, has something of his practice been lost?


  5. i’m part of a week in Adelaide next week, as part of the fringe festival, that looks at imagination and play with reference to the Christian tradition. Called Spirit of Wonder there’s art, lectures, discussion, pub conversations.
    I’ll be using the philosophers fingerpuppets to play with the place of imagination in history and in Christianity. An excellent, excellent resource is The Wake of Imagination, by Richard Kearney, who argues for an imagination that is both poetic and ethical, that is creative in a way that serves the other rather than individual self-expression,
    which seems to me to have resonance with Mary’s song and the way of Jesus
    steve taylor


  6. I enjoy these thoughts on play! God’s been talking to me so much about playing lately that today I finally googled the only play reference I know – “the infant will play by the hole of the cobra.” Your blog is happy confirmation to me that God’s children are being invited to play and to a relationship that’s delightful, creative and full of joy. I think play is a powerful prophetic act in a world that seems shadowed with all things serious and deadly. With a child’s simplicity, I’m at ease in every circumstance, able to play, enjoy the moment, be content within the safety of parental Presence. Play is one way of entering God’s rest. I love the image of Jesus standing at the door knocking, looking for someone to sup with – He loves the feast! Yes, “theology is an act of imagination and the eucharist is an act of play.” Thanks, Matt.


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