I was exercising in the Rec Center. The days are long gone when I exercised vigorously. In the old days I would have been going so hard, I would not have been thinking at all. In those days I never was inspired, nor did I ever have a mystical experience, while exercising. But these days, the exercise is more leisurely, shall we say. I was inspired, but it was a slow, revealing kind of inspiration.
What hit me was the name of the building in which I was exercising: Recreation Center. Of course, that is hardly novel. Every college or university of any description has a Recreation Center of some kind. There are plush ones, Spartan ones…but they all serve the same purpose. I was not focused on the name of ours, for it is named after a person, as so many Centers are. No, I was focused on the generic name students and most folks on campus call it: the Rec Center.
When we say it in its shortened version, we lose the sense of the longer word, recreation. I like the word, recreation. Like most folks, when I hear that word, recreation, I think of play. We can use it as a verb---recreate. Although it may sound a little odd, I can tell my secretary that I am going to recreate. I am going to play. Certainly recreate means more than physically working out. I could go play cards or chess and that would be recreation. Any form of play constitutes recreation.
As the inspiration unfolded, I thought about another set of central buildings on my campus: the laboratories (or “labs,” as they are affectionately known). For many on campus, the labs are associated with science classes, because those have “labs.” When students or faculty are in their labs, probably no one thinks he or she is there to play around. Labs are for work. And that is appropriate, because our English word, laboratory, comes from the Latin word for work, labor.
The pace of the inspiration quickened. With these two centers---Rec and labs---we come to a human polarity: work and play. I wonder why I and most folks would write those in that order: work and play? Perhaps our culture knows how to value work and to undervalue play. Perhaps I and others need to look at life more as a play-work enterprise!
My inspiration demanded one more revealing move. When we look closely at the word, recreation, we see its true meaning. Recreation is literally re-creation…creating again. Perhaps that helps us understand human life within the work-play polarity. There are seasons for work and seasons for play. In fact, I could argue at its best, work is creative and play is re-creative. No one should work all the time. There is a kind of sickness in that. And no one should play all the time. There is a kind of frivolity in that.
With all this inspirational unfolding, I was brought to a spiritual truth for humans. Spiritually we were designed to live within this polarity of work and play. To have one without the other is to live an unbalanced life. Humans are designed to live with rhythm. Our lives become purposeful with our work. Our lives also need respite from purpose to enjoy the restorative moment without aim or intent.
At their heart, both work and play are spiritual functions. They were both designed creatively into the fabric of the world itself. The Divinity itself could be seen as a role model of this paradigm of work and play. Appropriately, we can see the creation itself as God’s work. The world became God’s lab---God’s place of creation with purpose. We are part of the creative, purposeful holy work. Putting it this way makes me feel special!
But God also ceased to work. The biblical story calls it Sabbath. It is rest, to be sure. It is restorative. I think it is also a kind of play. Maybe I preferably should see our Rec Center as a playpen! It is a place of re-creating. Here we need a context that is free, light, without intent and without need for purpose and production.
Typically the spiritual life is a life of balance. To be spiritually healthy, we need a balance of work and play. Of course, that is easier said than done for many of us. Perhaps we all have a tendency to get out of balance in predicable ways. Some are really good at work---they are lab people! Some excel at play---they are Rec people! But spiritually healthy people need to be balanced people. They need to know when to be a lab person and when to transition to become a Rec person.
I am grateful for my inspiration. Every time I go to the Rec Center, I will be reminded why I am here. I want to be careful about saying I am going to “work out.” And when I go to a lab---even if it is my study where I write---I want to remember my task here. I should not “play around.”