Tag Archives: Leisure

An Idea for Lent: More Leisure

Lent is sneaking up on us more quickly than usual this year: Ash Wednesday is February 10th, almost the earliest it can be. In preparation for this beautiful time of the year, I would like to offer some thoughts on how to make the discipline of the next six weeks spiritually fulfilling.

The first thing to keep in mind is the fundamental reason for Lent. This season is not just about making ourselves suffer with some annoying sacrifice. The primary reason behind Lent is to draw closer to God through detachment from our sins and from whatever can distract us from Our Lord. As you decide on your Lenten commitment, it is important to keep this mind and to discern what will help you, in your particular situation, detach from whatever is distracting you from God. It may be the case that a challenging sacrifice such as fasting or giving up TV will indeed bring you closer to God, but be open to the fact that God may be asking for something else.

“Be still, and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10

In particular, I would like to suggest that you consider allowing yourself more leisure. But first, let me clarify what I mean by leisure.” I am not referring to laziness or even simply to rest but to something more. Laziness (also known as sloth) is a vice that consists in refraining from action when action is due. Rest is ceasing from action in order to recuperate energy for further action. Leisure is the opposite of laziness and much more than mere rest: it is ceasing from normal activity in order to open oneself to the contemplation of the beauty of this world, and ultimately to the contemplation of God, who is Beauty Itself.

Going back to your Lenten commitment: I can think of few better ways to detach from distractions and focus more on God than by commiting yourself to spending more time at leisure. The more you allow yourself to bathe in beauty, the more you open yourself to God. Since all beautiful things are reflections of the Beauty of God, you are learning about God whenever you take time to contemplate the beautiful. Even if your mind and imagination are not directly applied to God Himself, He is nevertheless revealing Himself to you through whatever beautiful thing is the object of your contemplation.

But to be at leisure, you must break away from the ordinary daily concerns that can distract you from God. Let’s get practical on how to do this. First, you will have to decide when you will be at leisure, and than you will have to decide how you will be at leisure.

Leisure Time

The evening is the most natural time to be at leisure, since, by then, you are physically and emotionally tired from the activity of the day. Allowing yourself an hour or so to be at leisure will enable you not only to rest but also to raise your mind to things that are greater and more beautiful than your job. You will go to bed not worrying about work but rather thinking about the beauty that you contemplated.

Ideally, all day Sunday should be dedicated to leisure. It is dies Domini – the Day of the Lord – and should be treated as such. Just as we dedicate sacred space to the contemplation worship of God, so should we dedicate sacred time for the same purpose. Going to church on Sunday is the first priority of Sunday, because it is during that time that we turn out minds and hearts directly to Our Creator. However, the rest of the day should be a prolongation of this turning towards God in the form of resting and contemplating the beauty of His creation.

Obviously, exactly when and how long to be at leisure depends on the situation of each person. Some people simply have to work on Sundays and others have to work late hours, but the point is that each should set aside a reasonable amount of time that works with his schedule.

Leisure Ideas

The ways of being at leisure are numerous, but they all share in common this imitation of God on the seventh day: cessation of work and contemplation of creation. You can be at leisure hiking in the mountains, walking in the park, or simply sitting in your backyard marveling at the beauty of nature. Leisure can take the form of being with friends and family, enjoying the beauty of the beloved people God has put in your life.

Leisure can be sitting down with a cup of tea and a well-written book. It can be watching or participating in an athletic event and enjoying the beauty of human athletic talent. It can be attending a musical performance and relishing the beauty of human musical creation. It can be watching a good movie or documentary, going to an art exhibit, or going to a museum. It can be the enjoyment of the finer things of life like good food or vintage wine.

Leisure can also be the development and exercise of creative talents. This Lent may be a good time to start learning that instrument that you have always wanted to play, or it may be a good time to begin that book that you have been thinking of writing. It may be a good time to take up or begin again whatever beautiful art is calling you, be it musical, visual, literary, culinary, or linguistic.

Stick to It!

Even though leisure is a very attractive thing, it is still going to take discipline to make sure that you have it. There will be times when you will be intensely tempted to forego your commitment in order to finish some pressing project or chore. In those moments, resist the temptation! Remember that life is so much more than your work or chores. Sit down, take a deep breath, and turn your mind to your novel, or your instrument, or whatever beautiful thing you have chosen for your leisure time. Before you know it, peace will settle in and you will enjoy that special spiritual dimension which is our privilege as humans and creatures of God.

For more on the topic of leisure, please read my post Why You Need Leisure.

Why You Need Leisure

Breaking from the Rat Race

Rat-raceEvery social system has its pros and cons, and meritocracy is no exception. While it allows equal opportunity, it also tends to favor overwork; it rewards power to the successful, thus encouraging the fallacy of identifying self-worth with personal success. When one identifies self-worth with success, he is inclined to work himself excessively since there will always be someone bigger and better to beat, and there will always be something newer and faster to get.

Living in an achievement-oriented society that rewards overwork can be degrading and even dehumanizing. To limit our existence to personal material achievement is to deprive ourselves of our infinite spiritual capacities. We are not animals who find their fulfillment in the repetition of daily survival; we are human beings who are capax universi – open to the infinite. We are capable of knowledge and contemplation, and it is not only good but vital that we allow ourselves time for both.

And this is the reason for leisure: it is a break from our workaday activities for the sake of contemplating and enjoying God’s creation. Leisure is not laziness, nor is it simply inactivity; it is being free from the tension of work in order to focus on higher things.

“We are unleisurely in order to have leisure.” – Aristotle

meadowWe all too often subordinate our vacations and weekends to our work: that is, even if we take breaks, we take them only in function of our work, and we break from labor simply because recovery of energy is necessary to continue laboring. But this is an inhuman way of living because it is actually a subtle form of enslavement to our jobs: even when we think we are free from work, we are actually still chained to it.

Leisure is not simply resting so as to get back to work. Rest is a result of leisure, but it is not its primary reason. Leisure, like divine worship, is one of those things that is done for its own sake.

Leisure is the contemplation of the beauty of God and His creation, something that can only be done when we free ourselves from quotidian stresses and tensions. In his essay Leisure: the Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper states that “leisure implies…an attitude of non-activity, of inward calm, of silence; it means not being ‘busy’ but letting things happen.”

To be at leisure is to consent to and fully accept your human nature; as one who is capax universi, you are capable of knowing anything you put your mind to and for this reason are said to be in “the image and likeness of God.” Obviously, only God actually knows all things, but you, as a human being, have the capacity of knowing anything. Although that capacity will not be fully realized until you reach Heaven, you are called to begin its realization here on Earth by taking time for “God-like” activity, that is, by taking time for leisurely contemplation.

Be still, and know that I am God.     – Psalm 46:10

When you are at leisure, you imitate God:

God looked at everything He had made, and found it very good…On the seventh day God completed the work He had been doing; He rested on the seventh day from all the work He had undertaken. – Genesis 1:31; 2:2

imagesThe ways of being at leisure are numerous, but they all share in common this imitation of God on the seventh day: cessation of work and contemplation of creation. You can be at leisure hiking in the mountains, walking in the park, or simply sitting in your backyard marveling at the beauty of nature. Leisure can take the form of being with friends and family, enjoying the beauty of the beloved people God has put in your life.

Leisure can be sitting down with a cup of tea and a well-written book. It can be watching or participating in an athletic event and enjoying the beauty of human athletic talent. It can be attending a musical performance and relishing the beauty of human musical creation. It can be watching a good movie or documentary, going to an art exhibit, or going to a museum. It can be the enjoyment of the finer things of life like good food or vintage wine.

Opening Ourselves to Beauty 

Whatever form our leisure takes, the important thing is the attitude that is behind it, which should be one of humility. When we are at leisure, we acknowledge that the world does not revolve around us and that it does not depend upon our work. Leisure implies that there is Someone greater than us, Someone who deserves the sacrifice of our time to marvel at His creation.

When we are at leisure, we free ourselves from the stress of work and open ourselves to the infinite beauty of God. As Josef Pieper puts it:

…the power to know leisure is the power to overstep the boundaries of the workaday world and reach out to the superhuman, life-giving existential forces that refresh and renew us before we turn back to our daily work. Only in genuine leisure does a  “gate to freedom” open. 

freeman3In summary, in leisure, you are free to open yourself to God and thus be fully human. This is why you need it.

Five Steps to Peace: Step 2 – Keep Your Eyes on Heaven

Boston MarathonA few years ago, I got it into my head that  I wanted to run a marathon. I started a training program and ran and ran for five months straight – long runs on the weekends and short runs during the week. When the big day came I was bursting with energy and practically biting at the bit to take on the 26.2-mile challenge. After so much training, I was in the best shape of my life.

I went to the starting line with the idea of sticking to a pace of 9 minutes per mile, but since I felt so great, I allowed my enthusiasm to get the better of me and I committed the most typical mistake of first-time marathoners: I started way too fast. I was knocking out 8-minute mile after 8-minute mile and things seemed just fine…until mile 18 when I hit the wall hard. My legs cramped, my vision blurred, and my head felt light. Eight-minute miles became 9 minutes and then 10 minutes and finally 11 minutes. I was hurting. The only thing that kept me going was thinking about the finish line. When I finally hobbled across and received my medal and a cold Gatorade, I felt like I was in Paradise.

Focusing on the Finish

If life is like a marathon, Heaven is the finish line. Life is tough and we will doubtlessly hit the wall numerous times during the course of our earthly existence, but if we keep our eyes on the goal, one day we will be able to say with St. Paul, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

To keep our eyes on Heaven, we need to constantly remind ourselves that we are pilgrims on a journey, and we have to keep in mind that goodness of our life on Earth is just a preview of  what is to come.

This is me hobbling to finish in mile 26. All that matters is that we make it!
This is me hobbling to the finish in mile 26. At least I made it!

This is easier said than done since it is so easy to get entirely caught up and engrossed in the here and now. When I was in that last stretch of the marathon, it was very hard to stay focused on the finish line because I was caught up in the suffering of my rebelling body. My whole world seemed to be comprised of cramps and sore feet, so it was all that I could do to keep my mind focused on the goal, which seemed so far away no matter how much closer I got.

The water breaks were what helped me stay focused. Every mile or so a table would appear on the horizon with smiling volunteers handing out cups of cold Gatorade. I would walk through those water stops, enjoying the cool drink and re-motivating myself to make it to the finish. If I had tried to push through those stops, I certainly would have collapsed. Each water break was a little taste of the finish that provided me with the mental energy that I needed to keep going.

Staying Heaven-Oriented

In life, breaks are essential. If we allow ourselves to be engulfed in the more unpleasant aspects of our earthly existence (work for instance) and if we just try to soldier onward without resting, we will eventually collapse, physically or emotionally or both.

It is crucial that we allow ourselves times to taste and savor the goodness that awaits us; we must allow ourselves the leisure to detach from the mundane activities that consume us and do things that are more heavenly. We need to be free to contemplate what is to come.

To be Heaven-oriented is to be beauty-oriented, so it isfinish-line indispensable that we take time to contemplate beauty. Beautiful music, beautiful art, beautiful cinematography, beautiful nature: all of the finer things of life are essential for helping us remember the finest things that are yet to come. Contemplatively walking through the woods, visiting an art exhibit, or listening to a symphony are all examples of things we can do to contemplate beauty and orient ourselves towards Heaven.

It is also very important to remember that leisure is not just about regaining energy in order to go back to work: rather, leisure is about re-focusing on our final destination, on what we were really made for. We should dedicate at least part of our evenings, weekends, and vacations to remind ourselves of the beauty to come. We should use these times to remember that we are spiritual beings en route to something incredibly awesome.

“Eye Has not Seen”

We cannot imagine the beauty of Heaven, but the beauty of this world foreshadows it. When we encounter beauty, like that of a gorgeous sunrise or a moving symphony, we are touched and our hearts are tugged; a desire for something more is aroused. As C.S. Lewis puts it:

We do not merely want to see beauty…We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty that we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become a part of it…When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.

The beauty of this world is but a faint reminder of what awaits us.

Eye has not seen and ear has not heard what God has in store for imagethose who love Him. (1 Cor 2:9)

When things get tough and stress accumulates, take a moment to disconnect and remember the beauty that is waiting for you. The more you take time to think of Heaven, the more you will find yourself at peace.