Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Dark and Playgrounds for the Soul

"You must fight for the light."

Thus starts a book I began last night, one much recommended by church friends - where for the past year a group of parents and I have loosely explored vampire/werewolf fiction, while searching for a positive "Twilight-equivalent" for some of our obsessed daughters. (I am blessed to have a daughter and son who, so far, have found Twilight sacharine and poorly written!) One of the disadvantages of my kindle, however, is that when a book is utterly annoying, one can't just throw an expensive ereader against the wall as one can a cheap paperback. How frustrating!

The book is yet another of these young adult mage/wizard/witch genre, following in the Harry Potter path. And it, like Harry Potter, gives into Western stereotypical and racist visions of magic as "light = good," and "dark = evil." Given that Black liberation theologians have been railing against these themes for several decades, you would think authors who care about social justice - and write for young adults encouraging them to fight against "evil," would erase these racist themes from their novels.

At the same time, in on line conversations with other Goddess worshiping Christians, I have joined in talks about seeing deity as "light" and "against dark." Clearly I oppose this dualism. Between Kali Ma and the Morrigan, and among God and Goddess and deity and the holy - all are ever dark for me, and the dark itself thus sacred. When I light candles for Bridget, I am not fighting back the darkness, and indeed that darkness is as much part of her hearth as any flame is. My candles are lit for the darkness as well.

And little did I know how profound that darkness can be! Spirituality is ever surprising!

I've been realizing today that the dark can be a holy playground. I have ever approached darkness as a place where seeds and life begin, where dreams begin in the night, where hope and aspiration find sustenance. Yet over the past year I have been playing in the dark as well, in many ways exploring pretend play for the first time in my life. That play has been so creative and explosively spiritual, that I remain in utter awe that so much growth is possible from the most simple of childhood games. In my role as an early childhood caregiver for so many years, I have over and over stood up for the importance of play for children, and yet that same play is also good for adults. I have only just learned that.

Such learning is a gift. A friend has written me of his different sides in his role playing game life, and clearly sees pretend play as something that helps him grow. Which leads right back to that playground. The dark becomes more than holy ground and holy sustenance and holy night. Play becomes holy as well.

Defending play as necessary for children is something many parents from every religious tradition are doing. My own school district long ago eliminated recess, and schools all over the country are slashing art, music and science programs. Kids get little play time anymore. Adults, working two and three jobs, get even less. Yet part of the growth all humans need is time to play. Sacred and holy playgrounds have to be maintained.

I think here we find a service pagans do better than many Christians. I think of the rituals I have attended when pagans dress as everyone from the ubiquitous Cerrunnos to Jedi warriors and male and female goth bellydancers. Churches aren't typically places for guys to explore dresses (unless you are a priest or choir member, and then the exploration is far from playful), or anyone to dress in Harry Potter robes. My own church, fortunately, does provide such a playground for children with its wonderful arts and theater program - open to all of every faith. The kids, at least, are dressing up and donning roles and pretend play. Perhaps the long and lasting memories of Christmas church pageants reflect not only the wonder of Christmas, but the joy of dressing up.

In other hats, I often get to talk to other parents whose kids love pretend and dress up. As capitalism forces our kids to be more and more adult at younger and younger ages, I know many parents all over the world who have fought to preserve pretend play and dressing up in safe places for our children. Despite its racism, Harry Potter book release parties long provided my own children with a safe place to dress up (I have compared the many parties for the Harry Potter book releases to superbowl events for readers). Ren faires, science fiction and fantasy fairs, the Society for Creative Anachronism, and pagan and fairy festivals have all figured in my children's life. Clearly, given that adults outnumber kids at most these events, adults need pretend and fantasy as much as kids!

All of these places are playgrounds for the soul. As are online book groups, support groups, RPG games, and plenty of pagan rituals. Finding creativity and play is counter to the goals of human life as profit, and finding that creativity and play can lead to the divine.

So wherever you stand on childhood and adult play, on racist stereotypes in religion and literature, on the soul murder that Western dualisms have fostered on us all, part of religious exploration is embracing the dark. Challenging racism. Embracing the night.

Here I offer my own song, sung for my Sunday School attending kids, and in honor of all their skin colors. I've sung this at church, at pagan circles, to sleepy kids. Take it and share as you see fit.

To the tune of "This Little Light of Mine"

The dark inside of me,
I'm gonna let it grow.
The dark inside of me,
I'm gonna let it grow.
The dark inside of me,
I'm gonna let it grow.
Let it grow, let it grow,
Let it grow.

I used to sing this to my kids, other Sunday school kids, to others exploring religion and anti-racism. I am only just realizing that wow, that dark really is inside of me, and it is wondrous.

It is Gay Pride over in Pittsburgh today! And I keep learning how many, many ways there are to come out! Yet for this pride day, where I've marched as a bi woman and lesbian mom for decades, I think I will march as a child at play in the darkness of God, a new world for me, and a holy one. I pray that whatever dark playgrounds I lose, I will find new ones.

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