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Yes. I just made up a new word. Wrote it by accident last week. I’ve decided it’s a keeper.

I was trying to write contemplating, as you might imagine, and my fingers tapped out contemplaying instead.*


Think of it. So many possibilities. It could be: “contemplating play” as in I’m thinking about or considering playing. As in I’m contemplating playing a game of tennis.

Or it could be: “contemplating while playing” as in maybe while you’re playing some music, it is causing you to think about something which needs your attention. It could be that the playing itself needs consideration, as in what do the lyrics mean? Or how do the music and lyrics relate and what difference might that make? Or it could be that the music playing is causing you to contemplate some other important aspect of your life.

But contemplate (and especially contemplative) has a much deeper meaning than just “thinking about.” And play or playing also has a deeper meaning than “doing an enjoyable activity,” or “engaging in a game or musical instrument.”

Contemplative living has the connotation of approaching things in a mindful and peaceful way. Contemplative prayer is considered a sort of umbrella term for many Christians and other religious practitioners who practice a form of silent prayer, which informs all the other aspects of life. Not only does this term usually imply silence, but also solitude and stillness.

The deeper sense of play has been developed especially in psychoanalytic and developmental theories of human growth and flourishing. Play is a kind of paradoxical experience that is at the same time within one’s inner psychic world and also takes place as an interaction with objects and/or people that are truly outside and not fully controllable by the self. Children learn to play as a form of separating themselves from their earliest caregivers and also as a means to staying connected with those significant others through communicating in acts of playing. It is the creative space, between self and other, where things happen and identity is shaped.

When considering contemplation as still, silent and solitary, it makes a mash-up with playing as action, communication and relationality seem slightly ridiculous. How could one really combine the stillness, silence and solitude of contemplation with the  laughter, noise, motion, excitement and relational engagment of play?

Ah! It is a paradox I’ve named. Stillness and movement are connected in ways impossible to separate. Stillness gathers energy that bursts forth in action and activity goes until is settles again into stillness. Silence and words are also paradoxically related: every word comes out of silence and returns there when it is over. We wouldn’t know what notes of music were if they did not stop, so that we might hear the next. We may seem to be alone or in solitude, yet we are always connected to others, even those out of our personal awareness, through a sacred presence that holds both solitude and togetherness in a holy communion.

Thus contemplaying is a surprising gift that keeps on giving. The word itself is playful and full of possibility, all the while spinning out new things to think about with each turn of phrase.

Some of my favorite forms of contemplaying are listening to good jazz music (especially if it’s live), and getting lost in painting with watercolors, and looking for shells in the shallow ocean waves with my daughter, and walking through the woods looking at the play of light through trees, and totally losing time while entranced by a good conversation with a friend, and on and on my list could go.

What about you? What’s your favorite way to spend time contemplaying?

  • It turns out that a quick google search of “contemplay” will turn up an architecture project: contemPLAY. And a search for “contemplaying” will take you to the urban dictionary, which makes reference to video games (of course): 1. contemplayingthe act of thinking about playing a Computer game, a shortening of “contemplating playing.”