The World Is One Big Ga Ga Pit

The Apostleship of Prayer hosted a family retreat this past Memorial Day weekend at Camp Tekakwitha in Shawano, WI. Families of all shapes and sizes spent the weekend praying, singing, boating, swimming, playing tennis, napping, roasting s'mores, and, most of all,
The Ga Ga Pit (spelling variants include Gah Gah, GAGA, Ga-Ga, & Gaga)

Not one adult had never heard of Ga Ga Ball before this weekend, but all the children had mysteriously been initiated into the cult sport long ago. I'm not going to explain how the game works; if you're curious, just ask a child--any child--and you are sure to receive an explanation (or watch this video). We grown-ups aren't sure how every child had previous knowledge of The Ga Ga; perhaps it involves some sort of gnostic ritual nurses slip in as part of the newborn APGAR assessment. In any case, Ga Ga Ball was a smash hit on our retreat which focused on "Recreating in the Heart of Christ."

All the photos we snapped of Ga Ga depict happy, smiling people.

Even the priest was part of the Ga Ga saga!

These photos capture Ga Ga glee pretty well; what they don't reveal is the dramatic filth involved in the game. Our Ga Ga pit had a dirt floor, so, two days later now, parents are still scrubbing away at their children, searching for skin. Orifices are stubbornly plugged with genuine Ga Ga grime.

Eventually (I promise!) the dirt will wash off, but my experience of the Ga Ga pit will remain in my heart and mind for a long time. The game made a deep impression on me not only because it was so much fun for everyone, but also because it caused a great deal of bickering among the children. Every once in a while, when I was called upon to settle claims of cheating and poor sportsmanship, the octagonal Ga Ga pit called to mind a pit of a different shape: a circle.
Specifically, a circle of Hell.
Behold! A Gustave Doré illustration of Dante's Inferno.
(This is in the seventh Circle reserved for the violent. Caution: may contain nudity.)

"He's cheating!"
"It hit her foot but she didn't get out!"
"You need to tell them the rules again."
"You can't get back in the pit if you're OUT!"
"She touched it twice! I saw it!"
"Nobody lets me make it to the final round."
"The big kids are trying to get me out!"

These were just a few of the oral arguments I heard in Ga Ga small claims court. Anyone who is or has ever been a child knows that playground games always--100% of the time--result in cries of "NO FAIR!" That a fun game should cause disagreement does not shock anyone. What surprised me this weekend, however, was my own reaction to the squabbling.

You see, I am not the most patient person in the world. I prefer order over chaos, silence over noise, and self-sacrifice over self-indulgence. And I prefer these things NOW, thank you very much. You may wonder whether motherhood and children's ministry are really the right fit for me. By the same token, I wonder whether life on earth is the right fit for me, or for any of us. The longing for goodness, truth, beauty, and unity is a longing for heaven. This side of paradise, we see only brief glimpses of these transcendental properties. We rejoice when children play nicely together, tell the truth, create rather than destroy, and cherish their place as members of the larger community. We feel disappointed, restless, even despondent, when we witness violence, deceit, ugliness, and division--especially when children are involved.

Impatience and weariness would be natural reactions to Ga Ga bickering: We're on retreat for three short days, for crying out loud! Can't you get along for five minutes? But our Apostleship of Prayer retreat was filled with God's grace. God opened my eyes and heart to see in the fighting the struggle each of us faces every day. Children and adults alike want to enjoy themselves, to feel successful, to see fairness in the world. Our hearts grieve when we fall short. In the Ga Ga pit, this grief took the form of occasional bickering.

Truly, the Ga Ga pit provided glimpses of paradise: everyone on retreat had a blast playing Ga Ga Ball. The dusty pit also reminded me that nothing on earth will ever totally satisfy us. We will get dirty, we will sin, we will cry out for God to save us. This is a mighty struggle, and God looks on us with tenderness and mercy. I myself have failed countless times, but God has never lost patience with me. If I were to get upset with children in the midst of their own struggles, God might well say to me: I give the world children for only a short time. Can't you be patient for a little while?

Photo: Huffington Post
Thankfully, many parents and educators have learned this lesson of patience before us. We can probably all think of at least one adult in our own lives who provided rules to guide us, who held us to high standards, and who looked at us with compassion when we fell short. I remember being sent to the principal's office once in grade school. Mr. Bottoni, the principal, was a good friend of our family, so being sent to him for reckoning was especially mortifying. I don't remember the words of our conversation, but I vividly recall his gentleness and the freedom he offered to "go and sin no more."

Parents from the retreat are sending me messages about how their children are asking for Ga Ga pits in their back yards. Now that I understand how Ga Ga Ball provides an encounter with the patient love of God, I highly recommend this form of recreation. Just remember to post a sign on the pit walls:
"Handle with prayer."