They say you know a language when you begin to dream in it. It looks like ‘Godly Play’ is really becoming a part of my meaning-making system! For those who don’t know this method of inviting children (and adults) to work with Christian religious language so as to become more fully aware of the mystery of God’s presence in their lives, here’s the background you need to follow what I’m going to describe:
A Godly Play room is a beautiful, child-friendly space set up with the storytelling and response materials arranged carefully and intentionally around the room. In a Godly Play session, after the children have been welcomed into the room, they join the storyteller in a circle on the floor and get ready for the lesson, which will be told using physical objects. This getting-ready phase is the ‘building of the circle’.
The dream went like this: I’m at church and I rush out to the parish room where we do our Godly Play. There are a lot of kids there, more than we’d usually have. I’d hardly given any thought to whether we’d do a lesson today or not, but I can’t really miss the opportunity with so big an audience. I see that the space is chaotic. I hunt around and find the creation story which I know well enough. When I sit down to begin, the children are all restless and disruptive. Some of them have no clue what they are to do, others are talking, or running around, or rummaging through the lesson materials. Some of them want to go back to their parents. I dive into the story, but then realise I have the wrong underlay. I take a deep breathe, promise myself I’ll get the room sorted and start trying to connect with the children. I then tell a friend that it wasn’t a total disaster, that sometimes all one gets time for is building the circle.
I woke up convinced that this was more than a dream inspired by the anxiety of not feeling on top of the 101 things I’m supposed to get done; it felt more revelatory than that. It spoke to me as a timely warning of the importance of taking time, of guarding and cultivating those sacred spaces in my life. (Less reading, more attentive listening for one thing!) Making sense of life, finding meaning and direction through the lens of the Christian story takes time and space and intentionality, and it is all too easy to lose focus.
That much-needed reminder I recognised immediately. But ‘building the circle’ is the phrase that kept echoing in my head. Often it is helpful in dream interpretation to see the various characters in the dream as different aspects of the self. Each ‘child’ – the disruptive and angry ones that inhabit the Shadow as well as the ones who sit obediently in the circle – every part needs to be acknowledged, welcomed, and listened to attentively. Otherwise the best that I can hope for is to love, seek and serve God with my conscious ego, all the time wondering why my impulsive actions, compulsive behaviours and unguarded thoughts are sabotaging my stated intentions. Conversion is a lifelong process. Perhaps I should learn more from Jesus about inviting the unlovely, unclean and unacceptable to the table. I may discover that what I thought of as ‘good’ is actually pharisaic while the parts I wish weren’t there are precisely the ones who listen to Jesus and open up to his transformative love.
I’ve a nagging suspicion – and my next dream (which I won’t share here) seems to be nudging me in this direction – that there are other aspects about ‘building the circle’ too, that are less centred on individual growth and more about being a Christian in community. I’ve more of a journey to take before I’m ready to put pen to paper on that one … Whatever, what I wanted to share here was a bit of the ‘aha!’ when one’s dreams start talking to you in the language of play.