Finding Space for Play and Wonder

playful child trying to catch a bird

In Plato’s dialogue Theaetetus, Socrates says, “All philosophy begins in wonder” (155d). I recently thought of this in the midst of a discussion of Jesus’ idea that one must be a child to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:3). Children love to ask “why” questions. Why are there clouds in the sky? Why do birds sing? Why do all the flowers not bloom at the same time? Some questioning is about a desire for causal explanation, but a lot of it is wonder—a sense of curious openness to the world with its possibilities and surprises. For children, wonder is also connected to play. A child might pretend to be a bear to explore what it is like to be a ferocious animal or to explore feelings of power. Play is also spontaneous—we don’t know what is going to happen in two or three minutes of pretending, let alone later in the day. As we grow up, we may start to think that we do know how the world works, or decide that play is only for children.

As adults, we also need time for play, play in prayer, but also a playful space in life that invites God into not only serious intentions but also what is spontaneous. We, too, can create spaces for ourselves that invite wonder. I find God in the wonder in a variety of places:

  • in admiring the light and shadows on the branches of a majestic tree while walking at a park,
  • in noticing the kindness of a mom at the grocery store, singing to her fussy baby, or
  • in watching a perfectly thrown football glide beautifully across the air at my university stadium.

Work is a way of giving our lives to God, but time for play is just as important.

For me, at least, time for recreation is not yet play. To play means that I open up myself to being in a space where it seems that anything can happen, much like when we were children and play proceeded moment to moment. I don’t know what I will find when I spend time walking at the arboretum, but if I create a space to let God show me something, God always seems to provide.

This experience of play in times of recreation can also spill over into being more spontaneous at work or even sitting in traffic. There, too, we can wonder, what will God do next? What unexpected gift will the next hour bring? Am I attentive to the moment, so that I will be there to catch the ball that God throws my way?

About Marina McCoy 67 Articles
Marina McCoy is an associate professor of philosophy at Boston College, where she teaches philosophy and in the BC PULSE service learning program. She is the author of Wounded Heroes: Vulnerability as a Virtue in Ancient Greek Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2013). She and her husband are the parents to two young adults and live in the Boston area.
Contact: Website

6 Comments on Finding Space for Play and Wonder

  1. Marina,

    At 6:30 a.m. – today – the word “wonder” was on my mind – for a number of random reasons.

    Now, as I sit in a parking lot, an hour early for a meeting, I was gifted with the time to read your post of yesterday. Imagine my delight when I read it.

    Serendipity? Nope – a God whisper!

  2. Marina, thank you for your gentle reminder that I can always take a moment and wonder. God is everywhere if I just take time to look, feel and quiet myself. Your message and God’s timing are spot on.

  3. Hi Marina, this is a lovely reflection. I have started to access some creative classes recently, partly as therapy in my healing journey. At 59 there are moments when I have felt somewhat guilty for doing something akin to childlike ‘playing’
    How wonderful to be reminded that we need to become as little children. I think this might help me relax a little and perhaps be less worried about ‘getting it right’ and more open to childlike wonder and fun.
    Thank you.

  4. Marina, admist this time of gloom and doom your insight is so very important. We miss so very much when we are not attentive to the moment and willing to be caught up in wonder. And, what we miss are the gentle whispers of God’s love. When we turn inward so much so that all we see are the constrictive coils of self then wonder wains. Without being open to wonder our ears and heart slowly harden, and we miss the gentle voice of the One who loves us and calls us by name.
    Thanks for reminding us to be open to the moment and wonder.

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