The Spirit of Play (and the Lack of Self-Addressed Envelopes)

A beautiful section from pages 183-184 of the new book by theologian Nimi Wariboko, entitled […]

David Zahl / 5.20.14

A beautiful section from pages 183-184 of the new book by theologian Nimi Wariboko, entitled The Pentecostal Principle. Contains more than a few echoes of a recent post on ‘play to order and the gamification of parenting’, not to mention the talk Simeon Zahl gave at our NYC Conference way back in 2010. Brackets are ours, but parentheses are from the text:

CatStevens1“Grace is a negation of work. But play is its style of negation… The greatest proof of divine graciousness is that grace is repeated again and again. For those under grace, for every act, every day it is available. This repetitive excess is the abounding vitality and vitality of life, pneumatic [i.e. Holy Spirit] existence.

Grace… by definition is a genuine gift and not a secretly instrumentalized one. Freely it is given and freely it is received. It has no purpose. No self-addressed envelope from the giver to send something in return… It is a pure means of relations between the believer and God. It is play, not because it is trivial and worthless, but because it has no end, an unended action. Play is the essential character of spirituality governed by the grace-principle rather than the work-principle. It is the state of religion that is deprived of the spur of necessity, want, and purpose – human-divine relationship reorganised in the spirit of play. Jesus said, “unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3)

Under grace we have a playful relation to the law which counteracts the inherent “violence”, “transgression”, and instrumentality of the law. The law is not abolished, but “deactivated”, rendered inoperative. Under grace, the law “would correspond to an action as pure means, which shows only itself [and is experienced] without any relation to an end,” [that is an Agamben quote], such as eternal condemnation. The activity of grace is play, free from work, disengaged from the serious business of the law. Play functions at best as a means without ends and at worst as pure means (pure mediality) and pure endedness (that is, has an end in itself). It is within this space opened by a playful relation to the law that we “then fulfill and recapitulate the law in the figure of love.” [Agamben again] The law is now a “playful thing”; for grace has severed the nexus between violence and law, between law and desire for transgression.”

And also, a couple of pages later:

“The saved person hears the divine melody of salvation not in the clanging cymbals of hard-working bones, nor in the pious chants of servility, but in the transformation of a sinful life into the joyful play of eternal redemption and regeneration.”

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4 responses to “The Spirit of Play (and the Lack of Self-Addressed Envelopes)”

  1. Jim F. says:

    Well…maybe; sounds a lot like Peter Pan. Mary was lauded for choosing to sit at the Master’s feet, but someone had to make the sandwiches and that fell to good old Martha. Maybe she is chided more for seeing that as a chore rather than as play. But I digress. I think my point is equating work with the law in every instance might lead down a crooked path; but Victor Hugo might joyfully trod that path, strewing masterpieces written with his sweat and blood along the way.

  2. Jim McNeely says:

    I love this. You can’t do things like write books of theology unless you like doing it. Ideas flow when it comes to you as play. I am having trouble, actually, transitioning to a lifestyle of enjoying things I do and serving from joy instead of having a job at which I work. It is strange!

  3. Michael Cooper says:

    The Prayer of Humble Access is not at all “playful” in its relation to the law, but it is supremely joyful in its relation to grace.

  4. […] practice, however, the rules of the game and the spirit of play exist in tension with one another. The experience of free play, with its boundless creativity and pursuit of excellence, resembles a […]

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