Play & Spirituality

An Interview with Dr. Lakisha Lockhart

Play is a central part of children’s lives and their spiritual journeys. When they use their bodies to explore the world, they also encounter the divine all around them. Lakisha Lockhart studies the importance of play and embodiment for spirituality across the lifespan. She explores how creativity and expanded ideas about beauty help children and their caregivers move through life with wonder, imagination, and curiosity.


Erin Reibel 0:04

Hello, welcome! My name is Erin Reibel. I’m here with Real Kids Real Faith and my colleague, Karen-Marie Yust. And today we’re talking with Dr. Lakisha Lockhart, who studies creativity, embodiment, and spirituality across the lifespan. So Dr. Lockhart, welcome. We’re so glad that you could join us today. 

Lakisha Lockhart 0:13

Thank you. 

Karen-Marie Yust 0:26

Dr. Lockhart, your work focuses substantially on the relationship between play and spirituality. So to start us off, I wondered if you could talk about why play is so important for children’s and adults spiritual lives.

Lakisha Lockhart 0:42

Absolutely. Thank you. So I believe play is essential. I mean, we think about this with our young people, how it helps them develop, it helps them cognitively effectively develop, right? You think about the games that they’re playing. How are they learning their ethics, their morals, right, that’s all part of how they become spiritual beings. It’s how they begin to see the divine. And so play is actually an access to a medium of being able to explore these things.

You know, when you’re playing house, what does that mean? How does that work? Or if, perhaps, a problem needs [to be] solved and there are so many different ways and play is one of those things that helps us, remember? Well, if we’re going to identify in a certain way as Christian or as people that believe in the divine, how do we choose to act? How do we choose to solve problems? How do we choose to go about things and include things and play gives us space to explore, to try things out, to fail when there’s nothing super, super big at stake. 

And so it allows us to do a back and forth as God would say, or allows us to do some kind of exploring to decide if you want to fully go in or if we don’t. So it just gives us space to be in a very real way, both for kids and adults. And so I think it is absolutely valuable as we think about who we want to be as people of the divine and who we choose to be, how we choose to show up in the world and live that out. Play I think is an essential space to be able to allow us to express who we are and how we choose to live and to try different things.

Erin Reibel 2:09

Now, what is it that children teach adults about play?

Lakisha Lockhart 2:13

What don’t they teach adults about play? Oh, my goodness, it’s so many things. Again, I’ll keep it short. The first thing I always love is that I think it’s children who remind us that, you know, about play: that we have to trust our bodies, especially as adults. I feel like when we get later in life, we just, we really stay in our heads so much, right? We’re worried about our job and bills, again, which we should, which is fine. 

But I think we also just forget that our bodies are part of this, right? You know, you know, we want to think about incarnational realities, we want to think about all these things about when the divine came and what it means that our bodies are a part of that. And so how we treat our bodies, how we make time for our bodies, and when we don’t make time for our bodies, how they shut down, I just think children remind us our bodies are part of this process. And we have to value them in this process of play and the light and take care of them well, because it’s the only one that we have. That’s a big, big one.

For me, I think they also help us realize that fun and work don’t have to be antonyms or oxymorons – that they can actually go together too. Our brain synapses have to move in a different way every time we move our body because our body and our brain are connected. So we’re actually able to do more, right? You know, think about moments, when you’re stuck at a computer screen and you can’t think about anything, you get up, you do something, you come back, it’s suddenly there. That’s the thing that play does. And children remind us of that beauty.

And I think, more than anything, they remind us to wonder, they teach us to remember to be curious, that a dinosaur might be a dinosaur today, but tomorrow it might be a truck. And that’s okay and how do we move into that wonder and that curiosity, not just about things and people around us, which, again, I think helps us with a lot of the “isms” that we can have if we just choose to go to wonder instead of stereotypes. But also, I think when we think about the divine and who the divine can be in our lives and how the divine shows up in beautiful ways, remember to stay curious. I think it’s so powerful to turn to wonder instead of judgment, I think it is so powerful as we think about who we’re called to be in the kingdom and how we’re called to sojourn with each other. And I think kids have the best way of teaching us in so many ways.

Karen-Marie Yust 4:24

It’s really exciting to think about how play might help us combat stereotypes. That’s a cool idea. So I know that learning to see diverse forms of beauty and embodying faith are also important values for you. How might parents help children see all kinds of beauty and all kinds of ways of embodying faith?

Lakisha Lockhart 4:46

Yes. Oh, so this is the part I get excited about as the religious educator, practical theologian, you know, Karen-Marie and I know about this, is like we actually can talk practically about what can we do? That’s when I get excited. So I’m just thinking about so many things.

So, of course, I think a lot about multiple intelligences, right? We’re thinking about kinesthetic learning, how and what does it mean to be? You know, introvert, actually, you know all the different language around that. And I think if you didn’t start focusing on hitting different things, like, Hey, let’s go outside and find the divine today, or let’s go paint today, or let’s play with playdough today and see what we find out or let’s just meditate today, let’s find God, let’s do a puzzle. Let’s, you know, let’s move our bodies and dance and realize how we find God in those spaces.

A lot of it is about cultivating the space, right? I think [Hans-Georg] Gadamer would call it like a counter environment, he and Courtney Goto would say like a counter environment. Or I think some of the other scholarly work that I’ve read, it’s usually called like a ludic learning space, right? So how do we cultivate spaces so that the spaces around our kids also invite learning? And so maybe their play area has a combination of paints and a plant and does different things. Maybe they’re learning in the garden. I mean, who knows? But how do you invite that?

How do you invite curiosity and wonder and again, you can do that through, you know, making a plan. I’m a planner. So this is not everybody’s thing. And that’s fine. Like, literally each week, I’m like, we’re going to go outside today, we’re going to have a library day today. We’re going to paint tonight. Our theme for the week is “A” so we’re focusing on apples and astronauts, and we’re going to make a spaceship out of a cardboard box. I mean, I get that’s not everybody’s jam.

But I think being intentional about having a space where they can explore and then being open when they do and helping them realize that the divine can show up in multiple ways in your body. You can really just start digging and using the things of everyday life: folding laundry, we have clothes, we’re blessed. I mean, so many things that we don’t think about in the everydayness of it. I think it can be really powerful if we choose to turn to wonder and curiosity and see the divine and invite our kids into that space.

Erin Reibel 6:50

Really love what you’re saying about this embodiment of faith. And I’m wondering, what do children teach their caregivers about how to embrace an expanded sense of beauty embodying their faith as well?

Lakisha Lockhart 7:04

Oh, my goodness, they again, I feel like it’s just so many things. I think the biggest thing they teach us is to not be afraid to fail. I think when we’re thinking about how we embody our faith, again, as adults, I feel like we’re taking so much with us that sometimes we’re thinking we’re doing it the wrong way, or that we’re gonna fail or that, you know, we’re kind of let God down or something of the like, but with kids, they don’t, that’s not something that’s registered on their minds yet. They’re just like, I’m going to keep doing it until I get it right.

You know, I can literally see my two and a half year old who will do a puzzle, and he’ll get frustrated at first. But then, once he figures it out, he’ll do it seven more times, wanting to do it over and over no matter what, but he’s relentless. And I’m just thinking, what if I had that same mentality where I wasn’t afraid to fail, where I was like, if I get it wrong, that’s okay. I can still keep going. Or I can just find another way.

And I think they help us remember that when we’re embodying our faith, there’s no one way to do it. We can do it by building Legos and talking about the divine. We can do it by making a meal. We can, we can do it in so many ways. I think we need to just be open and be a little more curious and fearless and say, we can find the divine in so many ways. It doesn’t just have to look like I have to be in church in this pew. And I have to read this bulletin. And I have to say this prayer, because the divine is in all things.

Maybe it’s a breath prayer today. Maybe it’s a body prayer, maybe, you know, I pray while I’m walking. Or maybe I have a relationship with the divine – I’m a dancer – so I will find out when I dance. Again, it’s different for everybody. Some people find out when they’re gardening. Realizing that it’s okay to fail, if so, but where do you find it and not being afraid to try. I think it is something they help us with when we’re embodying our faith.

And again, I think they just remind us to keep our hearts and minds open to the main ways that we can embody our faith. Again, it doesn’t have to look one way. But it can be different. I have a, you know, a student that loves puzzles. She doesn’t like to move, but she will do a puzzle and she finds the divine in puzzle making and, and what that means and how that helps her, you know, create space and, and it makes a space more open for the divine to move in her life and now she gets to hear the divine speak. And it’s just powerful and amazing.

And I think children help us when we’re giving them care if we just let them lead, instead of always trying to tell them, “Oh no, you’re doing it the wrong way.” Just let them go and follow their lead. Lean into what they’re doing. And I find they just open up so much for us. Again, some days, it’s a dinosaur and some days it’s a truck. What if you go with it? “Oh, it’s a truck. Great. The truck has nice claws today.” I mean, you know, whatever.

What does it mean to lean into that? And to go with that? I mean, just to remind ourselves, where curiosity can get us. What are we losing? I think we get so worried about oh, they’re gonna learn the wrong thing. But they’re learning so much more. They’re learning about imagination and curiosity and problem solving. And we could use more of that. Let’s go back there. Let’s remember that. Just don’t block them. Just let them do that thing and just go to their world – just go in. That’s what they teach us, so many things!

Karen-Marie Yust 10:00

I love your energy, your passion about this. And the way in which you see this really wonderful connection between children’s spirituality and children’s learning and adult spirituality and our learning. So thank you Dr. Lockhart so much for your insights, not only in children’s spirituality, but in the spirituality of their caregivers as well. 

Lakisha Lockhart 10:23

Absolutely! Thank you for having me. This was so wonderful. Thank you!



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