The Play of Frivolity for Lent

It may seem odd to be talking about Frivolity during Lent, a period that is associated with serious self-examination and self-control. After all, frivolity seems to be an intensely self-centred, maybe even self-centred, uncontrolled dialectic of play. It’s the light side that we associate with children’s play, with joking, with freedom and release.

For a number of years now there has been a focus in Christian circles on not giving up things for Lent but taking up things. I agree that if you simply give things up without an eye to spiritual then there is little benefit to you or your community. But I fundamentally disagree that you should not give things up. Why? And more importantly what has this to do with Frivolity?

One key purpose of giving things up is that the discipline of it focuses your mind not just on how dependant you are on it, but importantly on the value of it. By going without you prove to yourself that you don’t actually need it. It’s one thing to say to yourself that you don’t need women’s magazines and they’re just for fun, it’s another to spend a whole month without it! But it also makes you appreciate it, to put it in its proper context, to reinstate the value of that thing as a God-given gift, not a right (although I don’t think there is much debate about chocolate being a God given gift…). The things we give up are often things that are deemed frivolous – wine, chocolate, crisps, luxuries. They are the things we really love doing and are perhaps too attached to.  And the frivolous therefore becomes synonymous with bad.

I would suggest that instead of thinking of them as bad things we should really not be doing all the time we try and think of them as God-given gifts to be enjoyed appropriately. Lent allows us to put them in that appropriate context.

This is particularly important because it will help us to begin to view frivolous types of play as God-given gifts too. I was talking to a colleague/friend of mine this afternoon who is loosely the artist in residence at her church and has tried to encourage certain forms of play in that setting. She finds it very difficult to get the congregation to engage. I think part of this is how we view Frivolous Play – as not good enough for God, as inappropriate in Church. And yet we are more than happy to enjoy frivolity outside Church – the cinema, comedy shows, romantic novels, play-acting for our kids.

We need to redeem Frivolity as a God-given gift, as an essential part of human nature, as a healthy expression of our relationship with each other and with God.

This Lent perhaps we could refocus on the things we have given up as things we simply need to value differently – as life-enhancing gifts when viewed in the right context. And play a little. After all, the exuberance, excess and sheer playfulness of God’s creation perhaps shows us that frivolity is a part of his character and if part of his, then part of ours too.


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