Spiritual practices surrouding the New Year

Posted: Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hau oli Makahiki ho! That's Hawaiian for "Happy New Year!" Yes, you people who told me that the weather would be different here from my former home of the Big Island were right.

While I appreciate this winter wonderland, I do still offer this greeting as the richness it conveys is far more than the turning of a new calendar year. The traditional Hawaiian season of Makahiki begins when the constellation Pleaides rises at sunset. This four-month season initiated their new year with a time of peace, rest, games and feasting. It seems this year, more than ever, we need such a season as well as this greeting.

At its best, religion recognizes that all humans are naturally spiritual and offers spiritual practices which make space and time in which we can explore the Mystery with awe and gratitude. For those of us who believe Spirit is with us in all things working for the good, that we are created in God's image and are all beloved children of God, we acknowledge a foundation of Grace.

The trouble comes when, for various reasons, we get off balance and break right relationship with spirit, others and even ourselves. Then the question is: What will help to restore us to that state of original blessing?

One answer seems to keep showing up in various areas of my life and ministry - play. It comes with different names and from different arenas. It comes in training for various age levels and target groups.

When I began professional ministry with children and youth, a wise sage pointed out to me that we could either share "wreck-reation" or "re-creation." That understanding opened up a paradigm of wholeness that has expanded over the years. Imagination, creativity and play are among the gifts with which we are created. Using these gifts help us to connect with our Creator.

"Godly Play" is one of the deep spiritual practices that we are just beginning to share in our children's program at Aldersgate. Children are invited to wonder about Bible stories and what God might be saying to them from these ancient texts. Using a Montessori-style approach with lessons - like a "desert box" and "parable boxes" - children can do their spiritual work exploring the wisdom of Biblical stories through play. Our children are repeating Bible stories they have only heard one time! And their sharing is already quite profound.

Another practice of spirituality with a playful approach is InterPlay. As co-founder Cynthia Winton-Henry says, "InterPlay puts back into education, health care, spirituality and business something they left out - the wisdom of the body. InterPlay is an active, creative approach to unlocking the wisdom of the body for individuals and groups." Using incremental forms that lead participants to movement and stories, silence and song, ease and amusement.

While leaders around the world are using InterPlay with a great variety of groups, last fall I began sharing InterPlay with adults of all ages and physical abilities - no experience is necessary. These relaxing, enlivening, fun and confidence building InterPlay forms are easy-to-learn and incremental. Participants around the world in more than 50 cities and five continents enjoy InterPlay for profound personal well-being, community building and just plain fun.

There are many things we can list that "stress us out," InterPlay helps us access and practice the things that bring ease, grace and amusement into our lives. This is especially good for adults who are "recovering serious persons." Life can be easier, less stressful, fuller, more satisfying and more fun.

Whatever your spiritual practice this year, including having-no-more-new-practices, may you find gracious ways to meet the changes in store for us all.

Consider joining us for InterPlay to integrate heart, mind, body and soul every third Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at Aldersgate United Methodist Church. Next class is on Jan. 17. Call 523-2914 for more information.

• Judy Shook is pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church.

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