Leisure & Meaning

The Christmas season this year has been a rather interesting experience—bittersweet may be the best word to describe it. To begin, it was my first Christmas not spent at home, which proved to be an awkward occasion, if not even a little sad. Although I got the chance to attend the pope’s Midnight Mass, there was still a sense of something missing without family around to spend the days with. On the plus side, however, three of my good friends from back home decided to come join me for a few weeks, which proved to add the element of ‘sweetness’ to the bitter. Right now, I am sitting in the Rome airport waiting for my flight to take off for Vienna, Austria and five days of relaxation, German-minded-cleanliness and (perhaps) a little of das Bier.

Although this winter ‘break,’ with all its activity, has been sort of a haze for me thus far, it has nonetheless given me good reason to reflect on an interesting question: what is leisure? Frankly, I think that we modern people have a very misperceived concept of ‘leisure time’; either we are running ourselves ragged with daily obligations or sitting lethargically on the couch. There seems to be no middle ground. Moreover, neither of the two is really ‘leisure.’ True leisure might be defined as the “use of free time for enjoyment.” But we all know that sitting on the couch, virtually doing nothing, doesn’t really lead to any sort of enjoyment, but rather a sense of having wasted our time.

I’m not trying to say that relaxation and leisurely enjoyment can’t coincide; they can. However, I would argue that we often seek the first in hopes of reaching the second, and that we most of the time fail. In contrast I would propose another model for engaging in leisure, namely that we learn to recognize the relaxing yet enjoyable activities that we often overlook as just simply a part of something greater. For example, how often do we listen to music just for the sake of listening to music? (Scholars, don’t worry, I’m not undermining the principle of God as the only end in himself, but rather approaching the question differently.) For a long time, listening to music was considered an activity in itself—think classical concertos, symphonies, operas, etc. Before the early 20th Century, you couldn’t hear any music without hearing it live, much less capture it on your iPod for nearly constant use. Really, music has become a novelty to many, and something that simply accompanies driving in the car, running, hanging-out, you name it. The same might be said of things such as reading (to some degree) and having meaningful conversations (in the sense that talking has lost much of its significance because of our ‘wired’ culture.) All these things have become, in some way, insincere.

Perhaps the secret to meaningful leisure, then, is in learning to appreciate the beauty of such simply forms of relaxation. Instead of crashing, why not closing your eyes and putting on some Beethoven? Instead of channel surfing, why not reading Dostoevsky? It has taken me quite a while to realize the attractiveness of these antique pleasures, and I certainly don’t mean to over-romanticize them. The fact is, though, that they have and continue to be the true deposits of culture in the history of our society. With this in mind, Josef Pieper’s idea of “leisure as the basis of culture” really begins to make sense. Hopefully, I can spend the rest of this trip (which should be beginning any minute now) building up the basis for true culture—and naturally a love for the Lord—in my own life.

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    # by Anonymous - December 31, 2007 at 7:55 PM

    Lovely! Love the "leisure as the basis of culture."
    Have a wonderful time and enjoy your leisure.

    Mary