(Rufus, in one of his multiple attempts to try to get Theo to play.)
O God, in the course of this busy life, give us times of refreshment and peace; and grant that we may so use our leisure to rebuild our bodies and renew our minds, that our spirits may be opened to the goodness of your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
--Prayer for the Good Use of Leisure, Book of Common Prayer, p. 825
One of the more fascinating things I have been observing about Elizabeth's dog Theo has been in his interactions with Rufus, the Miniature Schnauzer that belongs to her other houseguest, Jon. Rufus is well schooled in play, to say the least. He attacks plastic soda bottles, chases balls, and does all the things that one would expect out of a dog bred to exterminate little critters.
Theo, on the other hand, finds these sorts of activities a bit bewildering. He seems to want to join in the fun, but it requires a certain amount of vulnerability towards not just Rufus, but everything and everyone in the room to do that. I imagine in Theo's world, growing up in a hoarding situation, survival meant claiming physical and psychological space, and the physical act of play demands giving a little of that up. In his old world, he would have almost certainly lost turf--turf that became just too hard to reclaim over and over.
One of the things I find myself able to do better and better in my own vacations is to truly "be on vacation." I think back to what I learned about vacations growing up. Most of my vacation trips were with my grandparents. As an only child and an only grandchild on that side of the family, it was about the three of us. Rarely, my mom would go, but they clearly treated her as an outsider, and in later years I discovered she felt like an outsider on these trips. You see, my grandparents had decided since I was a bright, curious child, these trips would be educational. They were intuitively right about this in one way--they wanted to expose me to things and places different from my small town life, but they were probably mistaken in not teaching me that vacation was also about play.
Vacation was Serious Business.
I realize now, that in my grandmother's eyes in particular, my mom's presence gummed up the works. Granny was rather Teutonic in how vacations were to be managed--there were schedules to make, times to keep, maps to follow, booklets to read even BEFORE you got to the museum or park. My grandpa was all about the car--having it maintained like an airplane on a transatlantic flight, keeping tabs of the gas mileage en route, the cost of gas in various states and how this affected the family budget. My grandparents, every year, religiously put a few dollars back a month in a "vacation club"--a special savings account our bank provided. I'm pretty sure we never went over that amount budgeted by much.
When my mom went along, it was clear my mom didn't understand that vacation was Serious Business. She saw things by the side of the road and wanted to see them on impulse. She wanted to go to waterslides and amusement parks. My grandmother would roll her eyes.
I still remember the time we did go to Disneyland. My grandmother mapped out the night before which gate we'd use, and how we would maneuver our way through Tomorrowland, Frontierland, etc., and how long we'd stay in each.
Well, you know, what I've come to realize is in this conflict between my grandparents and my mom was everyone was right, and everyone was wrong. I've come to realize it's a balance. Ten years ago my vacations were about seeing and doing things. They were enjoyable, and I'm glad I did them. But now, my vacations are about meeting my "Facebook friends I haven't physically met," and are more about "just being me" in their presence. Elizabeth and Jon and I have been having a running joke about how exasperated we've made her that we are truly happy to just do what she wants to do, because being with her has been the goal of the visit.
I look at little Theo, and I see how in so many ways, he doesn't even know who he is as a dog, yet. He doesn't know how to play because he doesn't quite know who Theo is and how he fits in the Kingdom of Dog.
When we extrapolate that to our own prayer lives, do we always understand that our relationship to God is also a balance between being guided/led/educated, and truly playing?
Or when I said that, dear readers, did a collective gasp emit and this thought emerge..."Oh no, our relationship with God is Serious Business.. Very Serious Business indeed. It's about our immortal souls, you know."
One of my biggest self-life lessons has been this: Yes, I have a job where some of my decisions are life and death. But not every single thing I decide out of the office is life and death. In fact, almost none of them are. Almost all of them can be reconfigured from a fallback position.
No doubt, those of us into high church liturgy understand there's some Serious Business involved in worship. There's Serious Business involved in maintaining a healthy, growing atmosphere in the life of the parish. It's important to understand the rules and the rubrics and the Canons and to take them seriously. Living up to our Baptismal Covenant is Serious Business. But it's important to leave room for play, too. It's important to have balance.
When we are comfortable enough in our own skin to be vulnerable in the face of God and in the lives of those dear to us, we create room to play, room to dream, room to imagine, and room not only to love, but to be loved for who we really are as a child of God.