Jeff Banks, a recent graduate from Columbia Theological Seminary and soon-to-be fellow with the Trinity Fellow Academy is one of our superb helpers at L’Abri this summer and was kind enough to share some thoughts about his time at L’Abri.
If C.S. Lewis was surprised by joy and N.T. Wright was surprised by hope, I was
surprised by play when I came to L’Abri.
When you learn about L’Abri, you are apt to hear about its focus on apologetics and its emphasis on the intellectual life. You might know about the discussion meals, during which we don our theological caps and discuss all topics known to man. If you have taken a look at the list of lectures or even attended one, you will know that there is no theological or cultural stone that is left unturned. The problem of evil, the nature of man, the search for meaning—we cover it all. The unexamined life is not worth living, so we examine it carefully.
However, even the people who come to L’Abri are not, in Jamie Smith’s felicitous phrase, “giant bobblehead dolls, with humongous heads and itty-bitty unimportant bodies.” We are thinking creatures, but we are also bodily creatures, and one of the ways that we honor our bodies is by playing.
Now, if you’re like me, it’s a lot easier to think about playing than to actually play. After
all, play is such an interesting concept! It’s a key part of our development as children, when we learn how to interact with our peers through the games that we play with them. We learn about justice (“hey, you totally stepped out of bounds there!”), accepting loss, cooperating with others (aka not eating all the orange slices at halftime), and competing healthily. The playground is a kind of school.
Playing is also a sign of the kingdom of God. (You knew this was coming, didn’t you?) In
his book, A Rumor of Angels, sociologist Peter Berger writes about “signals of transcendence”— signs that point us to the reality of God—one of which is play. When we play, Berger writes, we enter into a different sort of world that is marked by a different sort of time. Instead of being 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning, it is the third round, the fourth act, the allegro movement, or the second kiss. When we are truly engrossed in our play, full of the joy and rapture of the activity, we step out of time, at least for a few moments. We return to the “deathlessness of childhood” and glimpse the timelessness of eternity. We see what heaven might be like. All at a volleyball match during tea break.
But playing is also a time not to think—one of the times when we can rest from all the
intellectual, personal, and emotional wrestling that we do so often at L’Abri. And for that reason it is an integral part of life in community. After all, coming to L’Abri is not just about learning to think differently, but about learning to live differently. In a world in which we over-work and under-play, L’Abri is a place at which we can learn to do both well, and so become more like the children who will enter the kingdom