Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Tag: contemplation

Board Games: A Doorway to an Inner Life

Going Deeper

This post is mostly for the external processors and the extroverts, I think. But I would love it if it has some purchase for other kinds of folks too. We need to have an inner life to be fully ourselves, and there are all kinds of ways to skip across the surface of life. Fortunately, I think there are all kinds of ways to get down below the surface, too.

Introspection, imagination, spiritual awareness — we have these capacities as human beings — but there are lots of reasons to avoid these places inside us. Pain lives down their too, with trauma, anxiety, heartache, memories we wish we didn’t have. Below the surface is not exactly safe, but if we never go down there, we will never develop essential parts of who we are, and we never get the chance to be freed from all those burdens. An inner life is an essential part of a whole and healed life.

Jesus’ Example

Jesus obviously had an inner life. He was always going away to be by himself. After he was baptized in the Jordan by John and God announced to the world who he really was, the Spirit led him out into the desert to be alone for 40 days (Luke 4). After John was killed he went out to wild places to be alone, but the people followed him. He fed five thousand plus, but then he still needed to be alone. He sent the disciples across the lake ahead of him so he could stay and pray (Matthew 14). When he went to the Mount of Olives for the final time it says in Luke that they went “as usual to … the place.”  He had a prayer spot where he usually went to be alone with God (Luke 22). Encounter with God does not require solitude; I am sure that Jesus was always aware of God’s presence no matter where he was; but if Jesus, God’s beloved son, often went to be alone, why wouldn’t we?

Well, as I said, it’s scary down there below the surface, or we just didn’t think to do it, or no one has helped us, or we’ve tried and it doesn’t seem to “work.” Here’s a maybe novel take: play board games, or, at least, notice what happens when you do,

Board Games May Be a Way In

In the pandemic, I’ve been playing a lot of board games with my family. My ten year old son is now capable of playing just about any level of difficulty game, and it’s really fun to have enough people in the household to play a strategy game. However, it has become a constant refrain as we play, “THIS IS A STRATEGY GAME!” Which is a response to his constant revelation of what he plans to do, what cards he needs, and how close or far away he is from winning. He just can’t stop talking.

My mantra, “This is a strategy game,” could be more than just advice for how to win; it could be instructions for having an inner life. Some people come across this interiority naturally. There are children who, as they play by themselves, are happy to invent stories that never need to be shared. Some folks are naturally more content considering the world without outward comment, or more entertained with their own imaginations. I am not one of those people, and neither is my ten year old; so I am always looking for ways to develop the inner life in me, and now in him.

Quietly measuring your strategy in your head, so as to not reveal your plans and not hamper your own goals by giving an advantage to your opponents in a board game is the same muscle you might use to consider the ravens and wild flowers (Luke 12), or to be still and know who God is (Psalm 46), or to grasp how wide and deep and high and long the love of Christ is which surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3). This is not a stretch; it is just a step. I think spiritual disciplines require hundreds and thousands of small steps like this. Yes, “This is a strategy game,” might as well be a prayer.

Life is for THIS

Our whole lives must be appropriated for the spiritual journey

  1. Because that is WHAT LIFE IS FOR, God created us for the purpose of revealing the SOMETHING-MORE of our human experience;
  2. We are not as strong as we think we are, and thus, BABY-STEPS ought to be our comfort zone;
  3. And, because of that tininess, WE MUST USE EVERYTHING that comes our way for our development.

So board games, yes, they are for developing the spiritual muscles to have an inner life. Even in a group, we are waiting and watching as much if not more than we are seeing and saying. There might be more than we are holding now. Hold on a little longer. And, definitely, hold your tongue.

What was Jesus doing up on all those mountainsides? Maybe the best word would be CONNECTING. He was spending dedicated, conscious time being in his Father’s presence. Slowing down,  seeking his next move, considering the options — all while knowing he is not alone. Pausing quietly to seek counsel with yourself is a great step toward pausing quietly to seek counsel from God. When we realize how much is going on inside of us, we will begin to understand our true scale and imagine how much bigger God made us to be. The water beneath the surface might as well be infinitely deep.

“Blessed fact that he hath made us so near him! that the scale of our being is so large, that we are completed only by his presence in it!” — George MacDonald in Hope of the Gospel “The Remission of Sins”

So take all the opportunities you have. Board games is only one, and I hope it is quirky enough to open up the potential for you to consider many other opportunities for growth as the opportunities they are. Nothing is nothing more than meets the eye. Nothing is nothing more than what you have in hand. And almost everything, especial you, IS MORE than what you have already considered.


Saving our Imaginations from Fortnite

I am reading A Wrinkle in Time to my son, Oliver, who is 7 years old. One of my goals is to teach him to use and develop his imagination. I actually stop as we’re reading to encourage him to be still and actively imagine what he’s hearing. It’s hard for him to not fidget with something or even be drawn to other books and images in his room. I remind him, “We’re being still and practicing seeing the story in our minds. What does Calvin look like?” (I’m really glad he hasn’t seen the movie). On our family vacation this summer we listened to the Chronicles of Narnia in the car and he claimed to be able to read his book about dragons and listen to the story on the car speakers at the same time.

I think I’m a bit like Oliver sometimes. Paying attention is a difficult task. I spend a lot of time on my computer and always have way too many tabs open in Chrome. I am prone to popping between tasks and too often lack the stillness for the clarity of thought I desire. I want to listen to God and engage my own imagination in any number of creative tasks, but I am, as I think most people are, chronically distracted.

fortnite and coopted imaginationA big new distraction the gaming industry recently cooked up is Fortnite. It’s a shooting game where players skydive onto an island and gather resources to kill each other. Some kind of plasma storm forces them into a tighter and tighter circle and they can build platforms and ramps out of the resources they gather (that’s the “fort” part I think).

I found out about Fortnite through my nephews earlier this year but when I heard this incredible episode of On the Media about Twitch, the social media platform for gamers, I took a deep dive to find out why and how so many people are interested. If you are an elementary school kid like Oliver it is one of the top topics of conversation. Millions of people watch professional gamers play this game. There are tournaments with prizes in the millions. The most famous professional gamer in the United States is Ninja AKA Tyler Blevins. He reportedly earns a million dollars a month. He got really, really famous when, in April of this year, he played with Drake. Seven million people have watched the YouTube video of their game so far.

I want to save my son’s imagination from Fortnite. Imagining violence is the biggest reason. I don’t want him to be desensitized to violence by repeated cartoonish head shots and rocket explosions. I don’t want him to dream about how to kill anyone, even if only in a game, but it’s more than that–I fear the overwhelming swell of enthusiasm for this game will steal his imagination. Instead of imagining anything, he can see it all. It’s loud; it’s fast; and everybody loves it. He loves it and he has never even played it. It IS indeed creative, but too complete, I guess. There’s not much room for his brain to do anything because it has all been done for him. The artist who made Fortnite are not giving an invitation into anything. They are as 20th century writer George MacDonald said in his essay, “The Fantastic Imagination“, writing “THIS IS A HORSE” on their art (and on our minds).

Don’t mess with this dude, George MacDonald

“Suppose my child ask me what the fairytale means, what am I to say?”

If you do not know what it means, what is easier than to say so? If you do see a meaning in it, there it is for you to give him. A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer its art, the more things it will mean. If my drawing, on the other hand, is so far from being a work of art that it needs THIS IS A HORSE written under it, what can it matter that neither you nor your child should know what it means? It is there not so much to convey a meaning as to wake a meaning. If it do not even wake an interest, throw it aside. A meaning may be there, but it is not for you. If, again, you do not know a horse when you see it, the name written under it will not serve you much. At all events, the business of the painter is not to teach zoology.

As admirable as the creatives responsible for Fortnite are (I love their worldwide campaign with the llamas), the main force behind Fortnite is not art but business. Companies are going to great lengths to tap the veins of a generations’ desires as they have with Fortnite. But instead of awakening something in their imaginations, they feed us back their desire like a soon to be foie gras duck. If they find something we want, they slap a “THIS IS A HORSE” label on it and shove it down our throats in every conceivable medium. They took our dreams, made them very real, and then edged out the competition by dominating our imaginations for as long as possible.

Imagination is key to being a Christian. The cooperation of mind and heart with God takes contemplation, stillness and creativity. It is not always so clear what God might do next and we who are committed to following that next thing must have unclaimed space in our heads for the project. Other things crowd it too–worries, earning a living, etc.–but Fortnite is the most recent in a string of increasingly demanding and enticing competitors for our hopes and dreams. You might have a future in professional gaming, son! Maybe Fortnite is your ticket to the big time! Lord, save us.

Lord give us space, rest and real hope. Awaken us to what is already in us and where you already are. Stoke our imaginations and make something new.