Playful Spirituality

playful young peopleIn the discussions among my theology student peers, the contemporary mantra, “I’m spiritual but not religious” comes up frequently. Some of the undergraduate students I work with may identify this way. Many Christians cringe at this expression, but to even begin to understand where these people are coming from we need to expand our understanding of spirituality.

A unique thing about Ignatian spirituality is that while it is rooted in Christian tradition, it does not explicitly have to involve God. The practices of reflection, discernment, and self-awareness can simply be “a way of proceeding,” to use a Jesuit expression. This can apply to the lives of people in all traditions. Spirituality characteristically rises from within and informs one’s outward actions. This may or may not involve belief in a higher power.

Religion today is losing its mysticism. This is probably why we find many Westerners looking to the spiritualities of the East. Let’s see another side of spirituality. I recently discovered this parable once shared by Anthony de Mello, SJ:

The Master once referred to the Hindu notion that all creation is “leela”— God’s play—and the universe is his playground. The aim of spirituality, he claimed, is to make all life play.

This seemed too frivolous for a puritanical visitor. “Is there no room then for work?”

“Of course there is. But work becomes spiritual only when it is transformed into play.”

For many of us play is something that comes after the “seriousness” of spirituality, religion, or prayer. It is outside of our work, our religious practice, and even our relationships! But play involves the tapping into something deeper within ourselves. When we play we discover joy and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Why must our religious practices or relationships or work be rigid and cold? The answer is that they don’t have to be!

This new “playful” perspective makes spirituality available for everybody. It is universal. As Christians, part of evangelizing is helping others tap into the divine, whether they name it as God or not. And for us, a deepened understanding of spirituality can deepen our own outward religious practice.

Image by chamzy90 under Creative Commons license.


  1. when one goes BEYOND THE LIMITS of religious ideoligies and dogma, only then does one even understand the fresh breeze that is Spirituality. Religious haS BOUNDARIES and keeps one “in limits” of those boundaries….Spirituality is all-encompassing Love & Acceptance…with a vulnerability, that is actually ‘expanding’ and fluid. I am a Practical Playful Spiritualist….totally in love with God, Earth & His fabulous treasure of Nature!!

  2. I have read in more than a few places that play is how children learn. I’m not sure of the original source for the quote.

  3. I never know how to respond when someone informs me they are “spiritual but not religious”. Most often, this information is given in order for me to know they don’t go to church, perhaps do not belong to any denomination, certainly do not practice an organized religious faith. But they have some sort of belief or collection of beliefs and attitudes they hold to be equal to or superior to my (Catholic) own. I’m all for faith sharing but will not engage in debate. I want to be respectful of others but not submit to relativism. Your blog post today offers much to think about.

    • I said that myself when I still thought the Catholic Church was run by a bunch of bald headed little ancient men in Rome. I did not realize it is built on the Bible and that the rules are actually God’s. Yes I am cradle Catholic. Richard Rohr, who to my surprise turned out to be a Catholic priest and not a layperson, says no one is excluded from the kingdom. No religious practitioner. The new pope underscored that too.
      My worm has turned and what I preach now is that the supernatural is not supernatural at all, it is natural. Normal. We are spiritual beings having a human experience — try that on for size the next time you go for a speedwalk along that straight up and down length of that street over there.

      • Linda, I’m slow at picking up what you’re laying down with your reply to my comment. Would you please clarify your reply from “try that on for size the next time you go for a speedwalk along that straight up and down length of that street over there.”

        • Sorry I was quipping. I meant next time you go for a racewalk remember you are spirit having a normal human experience. Try it. Walk fast and think of yourself as spirit (which we are) as you zooming the sidewalk. Your paradigm will shift and you will perceive your walking experience in a whole new way. You’ll notice and appreciate the way the last yellow leaves cling to the branches of the locust tree as they rattle in a cold wind. You’ll think about how fragile life is and how tenuous its hold. The dog over there behind that rickety brown fence the Jones don’t bother to fix — listen to what it’s yapping about when you walk past. You’ll think about how God sees us and what he might be thinking.

          • O.K., gotcha! I’d re-read your comment several times and could not decipher it, hate when I miss out on something. Have to admit, though, I’m more of a stroller than a power walker, have to take my time taking in experiences to fully appreciate them, spiritually speaking in particular.

          • You can be a slowed down spirit cruising the neighbourhood. I walk one speed so everything has to come from there which is why you will appreciate what’s around you faster and more effectively than I do especially since I stay in my head — really not smart in the city.


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