Bulletin Column – July 21, 2019
Well, the dog days of summer are upon us! And with that comes the time and the freedom to head out on vacation. Whether we’re going to Long Beach Island or a villa in Tuscany, rest and recreation is a critical part of what it means to be human…and to be holy.
When I lived in Italy for a year, it used to drive me crazy to see the shops and churches closed for siesta! Every day from around 1pm-4pm, every store and office and church would close for the midday meal and nap. As one coming from the country of 24-hour Wal-Marts and 7-11 stores, I thought it was an insane idea – not to mention a bad business practice! – to close for three hours during prime shopping time! But there was something very profound – very human – in the midday siesta. It showed me that work was made for man, not man for work. Our American workaholism is not necessarily the best way to go!
After all, God Himself rested on the Sabbath. He did not do this because He was tired (God does not get tired, after all), but to show us that WE needed to rest, since we are made in His Image. Jesus would often retire to the mountains alone for some prayer and rest, and He told His disciples to “come along and rest awhile.” (Mark 6:31).
If you are shooting a bow and arrow, you cannot keep the bow pulled back at all times – it needs to be relaxed at times so it can work properly. Likewise, we cannot be “taut” at all times – we must relax so that we can reconnect with God and others.
A German philosopher named Josef Pieper wrote a fascinating short book back in the 1940s called “Leisure: the Basis of Culture”. In it, he argues that human beings need free time so that we can truly come alive, be creative, and reconnect with God, ourselves, and others. Rather than seeing free time as just a luxury for the rich or as idleness for the lazy, he argues that leisure is part of what it means to be fundamentally human.
But he defines leisure as something different from what modern men and women see it as. To Pieper, leisure is not going to Disneyland or binge-watching Netflix. Many of the things we do in our free time are nothing more than ways to alleviate boredom. Rather, he sees leisure as a time to contemplate, reflect, and experience transcendent goodness and beauty. So spending a quiet evening on your back deck with a glass of wine and your spouse is leisure; scrolling through Facebook for two hours is not. Hiking through a beautiful landscape with friends is leisure; going to a crazy electronica night club is not. Leisure should be about reflection and connection.
To people deeply imbued in the culture of workaholism, leisure looks like a waste of time. “Why are you just sitting there?” they will cry out. “Do something productive!” But that’s precisely the point – doing nothing productive is giving our minds and bodies a chance to rest, to wander, to be creative, to rejoice in that which is most human. It reminds us that we were made for more than just being busy-bees on this earth; no, we were made for “eternal rest” in the presence of God. Leisure is a foretaste of that heavenly rest!
But wait…I thought that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”, as the saying goes? Yes, that is possible – but that is what makes leisure different from boredom. Boredom is a restlessness and a desire to do something; leisure is a restfulness in the presence of God. I once heard a great definition of prayer: “Prayer is wasting time with God” (Henri Nouwen). To the rest of the world, leisure looks like a waste of time. But Christians know the difference – it is in these times of rest and recreation that we can grow in holiness.
So, my friends, enjoy! The summertime is the perfect time to slow down, rest, recreate, enjoy leisure, reconnect with God and family and friends.