Igloos, Wonder, and What God Thinks of Play

I don’t remember the storm, but I remember its aftermath. Our neighbor came, as he faithfully would, sitting high on his John Deere tractor. He pushed the snow into heaps on either side of the driveway.

My mom would be in the kitchen, standing by our oven as it filled the house with the buttery smell of freshly baking cookies. We would take him a plate of them lateralways chocolate chipas a thank you.

I don’t remember if there was more snow than usual or if we were just feeling particularly adventurous. But I remember carving the snow from the back of the snow heap in our turnaround. When we were finished, I sat in a makeshift igloo. The top was open partially, to assuage my mother’s fear of a collapsing snow cave.

I would crawl into my hideout, carving shelves into the walls, making “meals” with the pans and dishes from my toy kitchen set. I had an entourage of pretend playmates in those days, and the script of our adventures only shifted based on the time period of the historical novels I was devouring at the time.

My trusty companion Zach was there. He would romp around in the snow, jumping and twisting, lunging to catch any fistful of snow I threw at him. I would call him, and he would come to lay down beside me as I played. Clumps of snow would mat into the long golden hair along the backs of his legs.

One night, my Dad told me to suit up to go outside. I pulled on my long ski pants and bundled up with scarf, gloves, and hat against the cold. We walked out to my snow fort and climbed into its hold. He arranged some strips of wood on the cold ground and lit them with a lighter he pulled from his pocket. The wood crackled as it burned, and I watched as the orange flame danced on the frozen walls.

We may have made hot chocolate on our campfire. We may have roasted marshmallows. I don’t remember. I only remember the wonder of the fire on a winter night, the strange contrast of the chill at my back as I leaned against the wall and the warmth at my face as I stared into the flames. I remember my wonder as the snow glimmered against the heat, the wonder that it did not all melt away.

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The next morning, I was back outside with Zach-the-wonder-dog and my imaginary friends, and I discovered my fort reinforced. The thin layer of snow that had softened and melted from the heat of the fire had frozen to solid ice as we’d slept.

* * *

I don’t think I’ve made a snow fort since then. Certainly not a faux-igloo.

As I got older, the snow lost some of its magic. It was pretty to look at—as long as I could stay inside, as long as it meant a morning to sleep in.

It’s easy as we grow older to lose the wonder of childhood. Instead of a magical winter playground, the snow becomes a nuisance and source of complaint. It is a thing that must be shoveled. It is a thing to slow down traffic and make our commutes all the more treacherous. It is a thing that interferes with our sacred schedules.

We are lured from play by the sirens we’ve called maturity and practicality and seriousness. We learn to reign in our romping imaginations to be responsible in “the real world.” We forget the art of quick laughter and simple pleasures, of sprinting into life’s adventures with bold relish.

Some of us lose our wonder completely. Some of us have to fight to keep it.

* * *

I once heard a speaker share about a visit with his systematic theology professor. He was there to discuss his final grade. The professor began to ask a surprising line of questions. What is your theology of life? What is your theology of play? What does God think about them? Make it your life’s work to answer these questions…

What if we are not to relinquish our play, our wonder, our imagination? What if they are a part of our discipleship, part of our life that Jesus touches, enters, sanctifies?

What if we are called not to abandon play but to see how it may be a means of following Jesus? What if we are to cultivate wonder and not be lulled into the lie that we can fully comprehend and systematize God’s nature? What if our imaginations—not merely logic or propositions—can help us to glimpse how God is working in us and in the world?

What is your theology of play? What is your theology of wonder, of imagination, of creativity, of beauty? What would your life look like if you lived it in answer to these questions?

* * *

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
- C.S. Lewis