This past week, our nation celebrated Independence Day, our National Birthday. In so doing, we appreciate the values that make the United States a great nation: justice, equality, and freedom for all. There are so many blessings for which we should be truly grateful, not the least of which is an unprecedented degree of safety and security, standard of living and education, as well as structures that allow individuals to pursue happiness. No doubt, our Union can always be more perfect, and so commit ourselves to the civic virtue and generosity of spirit that will make it so.
It isn’t lost on me that the Fourth of July is accompanied by festivity, from barbecues to parades, from baseball games to fireworks. This is as it should be. Without being reminded of its preciousness – and the goodness made possible by our freedom – we might otherwise be overwhelmed by the cost of it: in lives, treasure, time, and effort. As Walter Ong (an American religious historian) points out:
Freedom is grim – something to be fought for . . . with antagonisms and even hatred instead of generating effusiveness and spontaneity and joy . . . ever since freedom became a “cause” at the opening of the modern age.
So why do Americans make it our “business” to have fun – and, specifically, to play games – on such an occasion? Because it is the most genuinely human thing we can do. Think of it: for the most part, nobody is forced to play a game (if that were the case, it wouldn’t be a game, but rather work), the rules for it could be other than what they are, and different certain people take them more or less seriously than others. Still, play comes from a drive very deep in the heart of human beings, something that both reflects the human condition and enables us to make sense of it, even to find joy in it. As Michael Novak (a commentator on culture) puts it so beautifully:
Play is human intelligence, and intuition, and love of challenge and contest and struggle; it is respect for limits and laws and rules, and high animal spirits, and a lust to develop the art of doing things perfectly. Play is what only humans truly develop.
This summer, as we take our vacation, let’s remember to make time to play, like the Christ-Child playing with his Mother in this week’s cover art. Remember the wonder of being a creature of God: finite, yet, but with infinite possibilities.