Exodus 20:1-20

You may have heard of Godly Play.  Some of you may have even experienced Godly Play stories such as Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd and the parable of the Good Shepherd which I told on Sunday 3rd May earlier this year.

Godly Play was developed by the Rev. Dr. Jerome Berryman.  

  • Godly Play is a creative, imaginative approach to Christian formation and spiritual guidance.
  • Godly Play has a Montessori foundation with 40+ years of research and practice.
  • Godly Play values process, openness, discovery, community and relationships.
  • Godly Play models the worship life, stories, symbols and rituals of Christian congregations.
  • Godly Play allows practitioners to make relevant and personal theological meaning.
  • Godly Play nurtures participants to larger dimensions of belief and faith through wondering and play.

Godly Play helps people to explore their faith through story.  It is used to explore the mystery of God’s presence in our lives by teaching us to listen for God and to make authentic and creative responses to God’s call in our lives.  Rather than tell children or adults what the bible stories mean the stories are told using some basic materials which leave room for the imagination.  At the end of the story the story teller asks “I wonder questions”.  Questions that encourage the hearings to wonder and think about the story they heard and to connect the story to their lives. 

As an educator, I believe this style of teaching and learning in which people are encouraged to think for themselves rather than being told what is right or wrong is important.  As an educator I have always considered the most important aspect of teaching is teaching people to be learners rather than teaching particular facts.  This is one of the reasons that I think Godly Play is a good way of teaching the bible stories.  Theologically, Godly Play assumes that God continues to speak through the biblical stories and that we can hear God speak to us through the stories and through our experience as we enter into the story and ask ourselves questions.  

The first ever Godly Play story that I heard was the story about the Ten Commandments.  The Godly Play version is titled the Ten Best Ways.  The story is told using a bag of sand which represents the wilderness or desert. 

“It’s a dangerous place, people don’t go into the desert unless they have to. There is no water and very little food there, and without water or food we die. When the wind blows it changes the shape of the desert and people can get lost. In the daytime the desert is very hot and at night it is so cold, people need plenty of clothes to keep warm.”

A wooden figure represents Moses, the leader of God’s people and a rock represents Mount Sinai. Moses goes up the mountain to be with God.  On top of the mountain, he came so close to God, and God came so close to Moses that he knew what God wanted him to do. God wanted Moses to show the people the best way to live.  These ten best ways are sometimes called the ten commandments.

“You may worship no other god than me.

“You shall not make yourselves any idols: no images of animals, birds, or fish. You must never bow or worship it in any way; for I, the Lord your God, am very possessive. I will not share your affection with any other god!

“And when I punish people for their sins, the punishment continues upon the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of those who hate me; but I lavish my love upon thousands of those who love me and obey my commandments.

“You shall not use the name of Jehovah your God irreverently, nor use it to swear to a falsehood. You will not escape punishment if you do.

“Remember to observe the Sabbath as a holy day. Six days a week are for your daily duties and your regular work, 10 but the seventh day is a day of Sabbath rest before the Lord your God. On that day you are to do no work of any kind, nor shall your son, daughter, or slaves—whether men or women—or your cattle or your house guests. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heaven, earth, and sea, and everything in them, and rested the seventh day; so he blessed the Sabbath day and set it aside for rest.

12 “Honour your father and mother, that you may have a long, good life in the land the Lord your God will give you.

13 “You must not murder.

14 “You must not commit adultery.

15 “You must not steal.

16 “You must not lie.

17 “You must not be envious of your neighbour’s house, or want to sleep with his wife, or want to own his slaves, oxen, donkeys, or anything else he has.” (The Living Bible)

  • I wonder which of the ten best ways you like best?
  • I wonder which one is most important?
  • I wonder if we could leave any out and still have all we need to live well?
  • I wonder which one is especially for you?

These commandments are called the ten best ways to live not the ten easy ways to live because some of them are very hard to do.  We might think these 10 best ways or commandments are a simple guide to life in communion with God and one another.  Yet the meaning of many of the “commandments” contained in these verses is ambiguous.  For these ten best ways to have enduring meaning for Christian communities, we must allow ourselves to be puzzled by their meaning, to dig into their context and complexity. For example, let’s take the first of these “you shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Note this verse presumes a polytheistic cultural environment. So far as we can tell, it even allows for belief in the existence of other deities and divine or semi-divine, supernatural beings that may exert agency and power in the world. Yet it mandates that for God’s people none of these other possible beings will be placed “before” God.

The meaning of that last short phrase, “before me,” is something of a puzzle. It literally means “against my face” or “beside my face”, possibly “toward my face”. What might this signify? It may suggest allowing another deity or power to obscure or obstruct God’s face prevents encounter and recognition of God which in turn leads to misrecognition – or falsely identifying God with powers that are not God, whether they be forces of nature, human inventions, temporal rulers, personified fears, or wish fulfillments. When these powers overtake the space between ourselves and our God, they prevent us from recognizing, encountering, and honouring one another. 

I wonder if there are deities or idols that led us to misrecognize God and one another?

Rev Tammy Hollands