Believing to Make: An Exploration In Play and Faith

“Play is an important practice of faith…but one best shared generously, even justly, across generations.”
Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore

My son has recently learned how to make-believe.  He pounds away at a pillow in the living room – “Eli making a snowman!” Later I find him in the bathtub stirring up a concoction, which when asked, he describes as hot chocolate yogurt – two of his most recent favorite foods combined into one imaginary delicacy.  Before I can stop him, he sips away at lukewarm bathwater as if it truly were a delight. His enjoyment would be very nearly convincing if I didn’t know better. This is make-believe.

Believing to Make

We play this game with our children, but does pretend play have any import for an adult life of faith? In his theology of play, David Miller writes, “And while [our children] are in the same stage we were in once upon a time, we play the game with them. We make believe. And it is true; we get more out of it than they do. Why? Because belief that is not matured by doubt is not true faith.”2 There is a dichotomy that develops in the adult mind between author and story, fact and fiction, reality and imagination, and this division needs dismantling. Making this kind of leap requires faith. Perhaps the child’s vocation in the Body of Christ is to reinvigorate the adult imagination. If this is true, then adult’s job is to let it happen—to listen to a child’s stories, to believe with them. The work of the child is multiplied by an adult’s belief in make-believe. The adult, then, believes in order to make. We revive the atrophied imaginative capacities that we may have lost in adulthood, and these capacities translate anew into faith.  We don’t “make up” the Kingdom like we make up Santa Claus, but we believe in the reality of a kingdom that we cannot see, and we believe in the truth of a Story much larger than our own.

The New Vacation

My husband, son, and I went on a vacation as a family for the first time last summer. We journeyed to Vermont with two other couples with children for some time hiking, star-gazing, and, theoretically, resting. That’s what vacation is about, right? Resting up in order to return refreshed to your day-to-day schedule. Since adding children, however, we have redefined this R & R experience. We call it The New Vacation. This modified vacation experience is all about play, fun, and adventure. The one quality that is omitted, alas, is rest. Our kids move 90 miles per hour, toddling, eating, leaping, exploring rocks, trees, food and each other. They play full time. The New Vacation has caused a mental reorientation about our life as a family. The doubts we have in adulthood, the exhaustion we experience, the weight of our work, these are sifted through the mesh of play, and the resulting new paradigm imposes a re-alignment, a surrender, and, ultimately, a welcome childlikeness. Christ teaches us that “unless you have faith like that of this little child…” you may not survive your family vacation or find the capacity to deal with more serious challenges—much less enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Faithing  Into…

Miller digs into this New Testament understanding of faith by examining the Greek verb that is typically translated in English as “to believe.” He writes: “What is fascinating about the Greek verb is that it is never followed by the preposition “in,” as our translations would lead us to believe. It is always used with the preposition meaning “into”….Thus, where we read “believe in,” the original text literally means “faithing into.”3 Such a prepositional revelation again draws to mind the indwelling of a story—the “faithing into” an invisible kingdom.  We believe in order to make.

Abiding in Christ, living into his story, is really an exercise in play. It’s a New Vacation, and a New Vocation—not to equip us to return to our mundane lives rested for reentry, but to transform our day-to-day doubts and fears, challenges and opportunities, into places of imaginative embodiment of the Kingdom of God. For my son this means drinking “hot chocolate yogurt” and loving it. For me, this means engaging in his stories alongside him, while allowing this generative practice to revise my adult faith. At the same time, my investment gives depth to my son’s play. I enter into his making-to-believe, and as he matures, I invite him into my believing-to-make, which is actually spiritual reality.

An Exercise in Art and Play: The Play Project

What happens when adults believe in order to make?  Perhaps…building blocks take over a church. As an exercise in art, play and worship, my church community is going to install over 1,000  wooden children’s building blocks inside Glastonbury Abbey’s church sanctuary, enjoy them, and then disassemble them—all in a period of a few hours on March 9th. We’ll then give the blocks to Boston children’s charities so that the play can continue beyond our art experience. We’re building a little kingdom for the greater Kingdom, and having a good time doing it! Please build with us—each dollar pays for one building block.  Support our Kickstarter campaign here.

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Shannon Sigler is a visual artist, theologian, and arts administrator. Her art and research center around a Wesleyan paradigm for the visual arts, as well as explorations in feminism, Christian vocation, and family life. Shannon served as the Associate Director for CIVA | Christians in the Visual Arts, and is currently the Director of Cascadia Worship & Arts for Fuller Seminary Northwest.

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