When it comes to leisure, many of us tend to associate it with time spent not working or studying, doing what we enjoy. In other words, leisure is work-free and self-indulgent. We see this notion of leisure in our culture, in which everybody must have their hands full all the time – they must be working, either physically or intellectually, to secure their survival, with a result that leisure time or leisure activities are seen as superfluous or reserved only for those who can afford it. This is especially true in our academic environment. As we student brothers near the end of our semester, the question we hear most frequently is: “Are you done (with your papers) yet?” or, in other words, “Are you man of leisure now?” Leisure is seen as freedom from studying, assignments or tasks, and all other work.
A common American proverb states: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Its implication is that spending all one’s time working is not a healthy lifestyle; relaxation is important too. If work, generally speaking, concerns activity, duty, task, use of force, physical strength or mental power, leisure accordingly concerns relaxation, a break or an escape from these things, or something pleasurable we anticipate at the end of our striving, but that prepares us for more work. However, this is not necessarily the case.
Josef Pieper, in his book Leisure: The Basis of Culture, writes that, “Leisure is not there for the sake of work, no matter how much new strength the one who resumes working may gain from it; leisure in our sense is not justified by providing bodily renewal or even mental refreshment to lend new vigor to further work – although it does indeed bring such things.” Leisure, instead, has an intrinsic value which is not dependent on such extrinsic expressions as vacations, hikes, or pleasurable activities. Indeed, these things do not always bring about leisure. Leisure is not synonymous with a cessation of work, but it is rather work of another kind – work that is attached to the celebration of our distinct existence on earth. What is it about our existence that is uniquely human? By celebrating our existence, we realize our leisure through the events of our lives, and through our relationships with our neighbors and with God. If every day is a celebration of this, we will always be men of leisure.
“Be still, and know that I am God,” says Psalm 46:10. To “be still” or “cease striving”, depending on the Biblical translation, does not simply mean to stop working or striving, but rather to work and strive in another form. It is a command to be prepared to listen to the most serene voice of God whispering in our heart from eternity, and then to respond to it in our life. In stillness, we listen, behold, contemplate, and celebrate the leisure of our meaningful existence.
Br. Phong Nguyen, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE