Magazine article The Christian Century

Godly Play with Adults

Magazine article The Christian Century

Godly Play with Adults

Article excerpt

CLERGY ARE very busy. If they weren't, they and everyone else would see the embarrassment, the king-with-no-clothes exposure of representing the mysteries of God. If members of the clergy go through the whole week without a single recognition that this could all be a load of nonsense, it probably means they've insulated themselves against the Holy Spirit. Pelagius has won.

Clergy are saved, on the whole, by the laity--laity who know what clergy are for and ask them for it. And so it was that I found myself sitting at a table across from a person who has no fewer than 17 physical ailments. We once shared a train journey and I was talked through all 17. Recently the person had a major setback. One thing led to another--several of the conditions set off others like a trip wire, leading to numerous planned and unplanned stays in hospital.

Of course, we could have talked about the latest setback. We could have prayed, and I could have shown my mastery of medical science as I identified the right intercession to attach to each condition. We could have had a drink and told stories.

But this person didn't want any of this. This person wanted to be brought face-to-face with God. I wasn't required to fix, sympathize, support, or advise. I wasn't, in that sense, wanted at all. What this person wanted was God. My role was to help with that. So we sat at the table, and I started taking small items out of a shoebox. I was taught to do this by Jerome Berryman, the founder of Godly Play. I'd done the activity with children, children and adults, and with groups of up to 170 adults. But I'd never before done it with just one person. Yet I knew somehow that this person wanted the box.

Out of the box came Israelites--people of Judah, to be precise. They occupied a corner of the desert, a mass of sand that covered most of the table. They had city walls, a temple, and a king. They were sitting pretty. But then it all fell apart. The Chaldeans came. The walls fell, the king was deposed, and the temple ransacked. The people began the long journey to Babylon. My visitor and I listened to the crunch of the feet on sand as each figure made its way across the desert. In Babylon they were sad, lost, and confused. But strangely they found God was there too. In the city's welfare they found their welfare. Later, many made their way back to Jerusalem. Crunch, crunch. They built a new temple. But their new life there was different. …

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