Don Bosco’s work began with play and it remains at the centre of his spirituality. To play means to be in the present moment. It means being together without any other agenda. It allows the world to turn without you for a while and creates a space for people to be together with games and entertainment or alone with a hobby.
Those involved in play lose themselves in a flow of activity and find themselves liberated and energised by what they do. In spiritual terms playing takes a person into the flow of life that many religious traditions call the spirit. Those who play are liberated for a while from the past and from the future to simply be in the present moment. Spirituality recognises the present moment as the sacred space where meaning unfolds and so play is sacred and a privileged pathway into the mystery of each life.
When the Hindus speak of the creation of the universe they do not call it the work of God, they call it the play of God. They use the term "Vishnu lila" where ‘Vishnu’ is God and ‘lila’ is play. They see all of the universe as God’s playground. The Jewish scripture also recognise that there is a wisdom that delights and is ever at play in God’s presence (Proverbs 8.30) Jesus himself was able to relax with others and went out to celebrate with food and drink and friends regularly.
Therefore, there is a sacredness about all space to play and free time, especially in social life and creative living. Don Bosco recognised the playground, whatever shape it might take, as the place where we touch a sacred presence. In the flow of that presence, we come alive delight in life, learning things that conscious thought can never teach us.
Don Bosco’s philosophy of education stresses the importance of play because it builds the relationships within which holistic education happens. He was a contemporary of Froebel and developed the educational work of Pestalozzi and used the Gospel to give meaning and depth to the classroom experience. Play not only builds relationships, it helps young people to relax, manage pressure and build resilience. Spiritually play is seen as an act of faith in the present moment and an expression of optimism in life. Teachers need to use play in the classroom for their own health as well as for that of their students.
Salesian spirituality can be applied as an auxiliary template for every lesson plan. The elements of home school playground and church help to make a balanced pattern in approaching every lesson. Using these categories alongside standard lesson planning opens up a different view of the lesson as a holistic experience based on the learning relationship between teacher and pupils. With this view in mind play will not be forgotten in the classroom.
So, find time for play in your own day. Switch off and recognise that you do not always need to be in control or be productive. It is enough that you are alive and breathing to count your blessings and relax into the flow of life moving through your body, your relationships and the whole world. So, stop and play - it's holy!
Fr David O’Malley SDB,
GBR Province Schools Coordinator