The Way of BeautyLeisure and Summer Time

Image by Lance Anderson via Unsplashcom Image by Lance Anderson via Unsplash.com (CC BY 2.0)

With the celebration of Independence Day, the door to summer activities is opened wide.  Leisure is taken more seriously than at any other time in the year.  What do the following have in common: engaging in sports, traveling, reading a book, taking a walk or a car ride, gardening or carpentry, taking a coffee break?  The eminent philosopher Josef Pieper answers that they are qualitatively the same because they refresh a person for returning to the routine of work (Leisure: the Basis of Culture, 21). 

Leisure:  What Is It?  

Leisure is a satisfying kind of activity and not just cessation from work, not idleness, not wasting time. It disengages us from daily cares freeing us to enjoy pleasurable activities as well as natural and artistic beauty.  Leisure permits the human psyche to put life’s circumstances in perspective. Compulsive texting and the ubiquitous, undisciplined, and gratuitous use of cell phones steal away these moments.

In the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, though there is no word for leisure, rest and refresh are found than forty times. Jesus prompted his followers “to come apart and rest awhile” (Mk 6:31).

Leisure is characterized by certain universal similarities, bringing with it freedom from external constraint, joy and meaning to life. Leisure evokes creativity but varies from one person to another and from one culture to another.  Leisure for one may be work for another. Many work on the weekend, especially during summer months, so that others may relax on the weekend. 

The Need for Leisure

Leisure time, time to relax, however brief or prolonged, is a universal need.  Yet, often a relentless work ethic dismisses it as time wasted.  Many guard leisure as a precious value, but in practice it is challenged everywhere.  Still, it is a prerequisite for the survival of every culture, the rallying cry of Josef Pieper in his literary gem.   

Our bodies register the need for leisure. ‘We work to live and not the other way round’—Aristotle’s thought and repeated by other sages.  Leisure evokes reverence for nature, for the arts, and most of all, reverence for God and for one another as images of God.  

Leisure in Practice 

Our creative activities help to lighten burdens and comfort our spirits.  Every culture pursues leisure in its own way.  During leisurely hours, we enjoy the beauty of civic, religious, and national holidays and the majestic vistas of national parks and playgrounds.  Holidays in many European towns see families gathering outdoors to enjoy each other’s company, different styles of music as well as folk singing and dancing; often they don traditional costumes of their locale.  

The Fourth of July evokes American pride in our colonial history. It was during those sweltering Philadelphia days at the end of June and early July in 1776 that our Founding Fathers hammered out our Declaration of Independence. Every Fourth, it is customary for some Americans to read aloud this founding document to rekindle our love for this prized possession that celebrates life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Independence, won by the early colonists against all odds.  

Labor Day, for example, helps us to value both work and leisure. Art exhibits together with music and literary events celebrate the human spirit. 

A society, long deprived of leisure, pre-disposes itself to compensate with cheap pleasures that debases human dignity. 

A Word about Work   

Work may be viewed in three ways. First, work may be overvalued for its own sake, so that it interferes with family or other responsibilities.  Second, work may be seen as drudgery if it lacks higher motivation.  Finally, there is useful work or enjoyable work. Here, we see ourselves as cooperating with the Divine Artist, to build up the world.

Ceaseless work and overwork destroy the spirit because, in practice, they tend to view men and women as machines. Acedia and ennui, states of listlessness and boredom, dull the sense of wonder, a thought implicit in the psalm verse: “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). Without periodic rest to restore the soul, acedia and ennui, afflict one’s overall well-being that weaken the taste for God and spiritual activities.  Loss of employment and financial crisis can provoke despair because they trigger acedia and ennui.  While coping with such extreme hardship, families should anticipate and pray for better days ahead.  

The Protestant Work Ethic

More in The Way of Beauty

Why do Americans find it so difficult to put aside time to relax? Collectively, we Americans rank among the most driven people in the world. Puritanical tendencies are resolved only by justifying leisure as earned by work.  Moreover, worship on the Sabbath, the highest form of human activity, can become distasteful and a waste of time because it doesn’t produce anything tangible; it is perceived as unproductive, and therefore, meaningless. 

Unlike business transactions, liturgy is an end in itself. Leisure is also a preparation for worship, and Western civilization is indebted to the Jews for keeping holy the Sabbath. In fact, they gave us the weekend beginning on Friday at sundown. As if to confirm the need for leisure, Jesus tells us: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). 

Leisure Today

Despite the grim news and horrific images that enter our homes daily, even relentlessly, we must still guard our inner peace and put aside some time for leisure. The human race may be flawed by limitation and sin, but at heart we do want to find peace supported in the family, in the Church, and in society at large. 

The world has divorced leisurely pleasure from God, an error in logic that is entirely ours. God is our highest pleasure in whom we take delight ‘whether we eat, drink, or whatever we do;’ these we should do for God’s glory’ (1 Cor 10:31).  To destroy our taste for alternating rest with work is to interfere with the foundation of life.  

Here James Weldon Johnson (d 1938), the distinguished African American poet, author, and civil rights lawyer, active in the NAACP, depicts God at work and God completing his work of art:

THE CREATION

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And God stepped out on space,

And He looked around and said:

“I'm lonely--

I'll make me a world.”

-----

And far as the eye of God could see

Darkness covered everything,

Blacker than a hundred midnights

Down in the cypress swamp.

-----

Then God smiled,

And the light broke,

And the darkness rolled up on one side,

And the light stood shining on the others,

And God said:  “That's good!”

-----

Then God reached out and took the light in His hands,

And God rolled the light around in His hands,

Until He made the sun;

And He set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.

And the light that was left from making the sun

God gathered it up in a shining ball

And flung it against the darkness,

Spangling the night with the moon and the stars, 

Then down between the darkness and the light

He hurled the world;

And God said:  “That's good!”

-----

Then God Himself stepped down--

And the sun was on His right hand,

And the moon was on His left;

The stars were clustered about His head,

And the earth was under His feet.

And God walked, and where He trod

His footsteps hollowed the valleys out,

And bulged the mountains up.

-----

Then He stopped and looked and saw

That the earth was hot and barren.

And God stepped over to the edge of the world

And He spat out the seven seas--

He batted His eyes, and the lightning flashed--

He clapped His hands, and the thunder rolled--

And the waters above the earth came down,

The cooling waters came down.

-----

Then the green grass sprouted,

And the little red flowers blossomed,

And the pine tree pointed its finger to the sky,

And the oak spread out his arms,

And the lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,

And the rivers ran down to the sea;

And God smiled again,

And the rainbow appeared,

And curled itself around His shoulder.

-----

Then God raised His arm, and He waved His hand

Over the sea and over the land,

And He said:  “Bring forth! Bring forth!”

And quicker than God could drop His hand,

Fishes and fowls

And beasts and birds

Swam the rivers and the seas

Roamed the forests and the woods,

And split the air with their wings,

And God said:  “That's good!”

-----

Then God walked around,

And God looked around On all that He had made.

He looked at His sun,

And He looked at His moon,

And He looked at His little stars;

He looked on His world

With all its living things,

And God said:  “I'm lonely still.”

-----

Then God sat down--

On the side of a hill where He could think;

By a deep, wide river He sat down;

With His head in His hands,

God thought and thought,

Till He thought:  “I'll make me a man!”

-----

Up from the bed of the river

God scooped the clay;

And by the bank of the river

He kneeled Him down;

And there the great God Almighty,

Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,

Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,

Who rounded the earth in the middle of His hand;

This great God,

Like a mammy bending over her baby,

Kneeled down in the dust

Toiling over a lump of clay

Till He shaped it in His own image.

-----

Then into it He blew the breath of life.

And man became a living soul.

Amen.  Amen.

-----

When it was all completed on Day 7, the Creator-God looked out over his cosmic masterpiece. Pleased with his work of art, he declared, 'that’s good.' Then, he sat down and rested.

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