SOME DAYS OF RETREAT: Learning to Play

The past couple of weeks I have mainly been on retreat at a couple of monasteries in California – first at Redwoods, a Cistercian women’s order, and then the New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur.

Redwoods, April 2008 022

Redwoods near Redwoods Monastery, California

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The chapel at the New Camaldoli Hermitage

On Tuesday, April 21, I performed “Testament of a Naked Man” in the chapel at the New Camaldoli for members of the community plus retreatants and other visitors.  My approach to this was particularly relaxed, and I felt, possibly for the first time, the freedom to “play” with this…  I am familiar with the words of Mark’s Gospel, I know the story – sure, I make mistakes here and there but usually minor and usually I know straight away that I’ve got words in the wrong order or used the “wrong” word, but essentially I know it, as well as I know anything.  So I had this feeling that now is time to begin to play!  After all, that is what a dramatic presentation is usually called: a play.

So, it was for me a very relaxed experience, and I felt it went well – even though there were some problems with the sound box for the two musical interludes, it didn’t matter – after all, I’m just playing.  It’s going to be interesting to see how this attitude of play is going to unfold as this tour continues…  And I already perceive life-lessons in this in terms of “life as play” rather than as “work.”  Work can be good, of course, work can be holy, but more often than not the word “work” is associated with drudge, having to make a living, make ends meets, save for retirement when work will be no more.  I’m not convinced this is how things are meant to be (if the phrase “meant to be” even has any meaning, but that’s a whole other conversation for another time/place).  Maybe better to say, that’s not how I want things to be (as opposed to how things are meant to be) – to live life in a spirit of play.  How much more enjoyable life would be!  How much free-er, how liberated; how much richer, how much more fulfilling…

As I have been staying near Big Sur, I’ve taken the opportunity to re-acquaint with Henry Miller, reading The Unknown Henry Miller: A Seeker in Big Sur, a recent biography by Arthur Hoyle (I’ve put The Birth of Christianity aside for a while).  A very good account, and one that is quite critical of Miller. Unknown However, reading of his life at Big Sur (that I love) and of his attitude to life and work (and the connection between them) is also feeding into my intuition and instinct that ultimately life is “meant to be” play.  As Merton says at the end of New Seeds of Contemplation:

“What is serious to us is often very trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as “play” is perhaps what he takes most seriously. At any rate the Lord plays and diverts himself in the garden of his creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear his call and follow him in his mysterious, cosmic dance.” etc…

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