Featured Article July-August 2011

Playing Catch – A “Benedictine” Game

Obedience is a blessing to be shown by all,
not only to the abbot or prioress
but to one another as sisters and brothers,
since we know that it is by this way of obedience
that we go to God.                                             RB 71.1-2

Summer is a time for playing games.  I recall many seemingly endless summers where my friends and I would play together morning, afternoon and evening, the latter in spite of that Minnesota  State “bird,” the mosquito.  My favorite game was one that my brother and I and some other neighborhood kids invented.  It was called “Hide from Cars.”

The “game” went like this—When it was completely dark outside we would all stand in the middle of the main street which ran through our residential neighborhood. It was a pretty busy street.  (Yikes!  I wonder what my parents would have said if they had any inkling at all what we were doing?)  As a car approached we would stand there as long as we dared.  When terror set in we’d dart off the street as quickly as possible…zip…diving into the bushes alongside the road.  Each “player” had to be totally concealed in the bushes before the headlights of the car passed in front.  I don’t remember what the consequences were if the headlights passed before you were concealed let alone what the real consequences might have been if one of us didn’t fly off the street in a timely fashion!

What was your favorite game as a child?  Was it leap frog, jacks, tag, dodge ball, soft ball, hide and seek, musical chairs or, if you’re younger, computer games?  Many of these games have common characteristics.  Someone hides and someone seeks.  One person throws a ball (very hard) and another person “dodges” the ball or gets a painful thump.  The tagger pursues and the one who doesn’t want to be tagged flees.  One person jumps over another in order to get ahead or shoves someone out of the way to get a seat before the music stops.

So many games are based on pursuit or being “the winner.”  Maybe that’s why I liked “Hide from Cars.”  It was a game we played together but no one ever won or lost.  There are no games that I can think of where the object is to be found.  There are no games where the object is to help the other person be the winner.  From the time we’re young children we are schooled, trained and played into the joys of pursuit and winning.  We are honed to the desirability of separation and competition.  “It’s just play,” the skeptic chimes.  Ah, it is not just play.  Truth is, we learn better when we play at something.  Lessons are absorbed while having a good time.

One game that I can think of that doesn’t use the principles of pursuit and evasion or separation and competition is the simple game of catch.  Unless you’re playing with a trickster or a downright mean kid, the object is to throw the ball to someone else so that they can actually catch it and throw it back to you.  Now isn’t this a satisfying game?  When I throw a ball to someone or catch that ball, a positive connection is made between me and the other person.  A unity is created.  We are no longer two, or three or four, or however many we are.  We’ve become one, connected by the ball as it is tossed from one person to another.  We have a common goal—not letting the ball touch the ground.

Instead of pursuit and evasion there is mutuality and connection.

Instead of separation and competition, there is unity and a common goal.

What does the game of catch have to do with the Rule of St. Benedict, the focus of this newsletter?  I think that the game of “catch” is a great illustration of relationship and community as they are presented in the Rule.  First of all, the game of catch is a playtime model of mutual obedience.  Benedict says that obedience – listening to one another and to life and then responding to how we discern God is calling us – is to be shown to all and not just to the abbot or prioress.  In the game we are obedient to one another when we follow the “rule” of throwing the ball so that it can be caught.

Benedict’s Rule asks us to “each try to be the first to show respect to the other” and to “earnestly compete in obedience to one another” (RB 72.4, 6).  Here’s one place where Benedict encourages healthy competition!  In our game we show respect and model obedience when we are mutually tossing the ball to be caught instead of blasting the other person with the ball as we might do in the not-so-good-old game of dodge-ball.  As the ball is tossed back and forth, we seek a harmony and unity.  Benedict says in the Prologue, “Let peace be your quest and aim (Prologue 17).

In our game we respect one another (RB 72.4) and support even the players whose skill is weak (RB 72.5) by throwing perhaps a little more gently so that the person can grow in their skill.  Benedict asks us for the generosity of heart to pursue not what we judge better for ourselves, but what we judge better for someone else.(RB 72.7)  In our game, I throw the ball so that you can catch it and get better at catching instead of throwing it as hard or as far as I can.

Finally, the mutuality and care shown through a good game of catch turns away from competition and winning towards this counter-cultural directive in Chapter 4 – The Tools for Good Works: “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way: the love of Christ must come before all else.”(RB 4.20-21)  All in all, I think Benedict would have approved of and perhaps even enjoyed a good game of catch!

In his first letter to the Thessalonians Paul asks us to “encourage one another and build each other up.”  (I Thes 5:11)   We may not always be able to play catch to do this, but we can all work on the mutual goals of loving one another, respecting one another and seeking good for one another in our family, workplace, school, community and church.  Kindness can be the ball that we toss to another person.  You can be assured that the ball of kindness will be returned to you or tossed in love to someone else.

Well, gotta run now.  I’m going to find a ball and play catch with someone!


August, 2011
© 2011 The Rev. Dr. Jane A. Tomaine

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