Speaking of Religion | Leisure

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We have begun feeling a chilly nip in the early morning air these recent days. It is welcome after having experienced a series of high temperatures these past weeks. As the day progresses that slight chill gives way to the warmth of bright sunny days assuring us that summer is still holding on these remaining August days.

It seems, however, that most of us are commenting how summer has gone by all too fast - another sign reminding us of what's in store with the seasons a changing.

The days of summer are leisure days. We can identify in a relaxing, listless kind of way with the lyrics from George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess:

"Summertime

And the livin' is easy

Fish are jumpin'

And the cotton is high

One of these mornings

You're going to rise up singing

Then you'll spread your wings

And you'll fly to the sky."

Summertime and the living is easy. Summertime is often synonymous with the experience of leisure.

Unfortunately, more and more, leisure seems a rare commodity with these highly charged, fast paced days of modern life. Even in summer time leisure seems less experienced, less enjoyed.

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When we think of leisure we often think of enjoying that rare glorious freedom to do just as we like. It seems so many demands are placed on us these days, from just about everywhere, that leisure is simply a wistful remembrance of prior times.

As summer closes out, with leisure having been somewhat lost to us, it may be a good time to reflect again on leisure's primary purpose so that it won't be lost come some future summer.

Leisure is, in fact, a good practice for all the year's seasons. We can enjoy leisure in the coming autumn days and even in the midst of winter storms while cuddled in a cozy blanket.

Leisure might be enjoyed simply in the reading of a good book; but even more it is experienced in the spontaneous thought and reflection stemming from passages that touch our minds and hearts inflaming the gift of our wonder, another rare commodity.

An excellent book for leisure's enjoyment can be found in Josef Pieper's Leisure, the Basis of Culture.

Josef Pieper, a thoughtful German Catholic philosopher of the early 20th century, died in 1997 but his reflections seem even more relevant in our contemporary times.

Pieper maintains that our world has become one of total work; we live for the utility of work and for the money work brings us. Our labor culture has vanquished leisure from our everyday experience. In our time for relaxing he fears we have substituted addictive amusements for true leisure, addictions that have become non-stop work in and of themselves. Pieper claims that in our missing out of authentic leisure we are missing out on genuine happiness:

"Repose, leisure, peace, belong among the elements of happiness. If we have not escaped from harried rush, from mad pursuit, from unrest, from the necessity of care, we are not happy." (Happiness and Contemplation)

Pieper associates genuine leisure with contemplation. He claims the very premise of contemplation is freedom — freedom from the fetters of workaday busyness and freedom for the leisure of contemplating reality which in truth is the contemplation of God and his creative love.

Contemplation is leisure; leisure is contemplation. We human beings live in a reality that encompasses us and is beyond us. True leisure invites us to contemplate, to pray.

Contemplation is a school for knowing reality's truth. What better time to begin the practice of contemplation than the beginning a new academic year. The word "leisure" in Greek is "skole"; in Latin it is "scola" and in English it is "school."

A successful year of "study" may mean a future summertime of leisure that opens our lives to a glorious freedom in the love that is the world; the love that makes the world go round; the love that is God. The love in which we live and move and have our very being.

The Rev. Hugh Cleary, C.S.C. is a priest at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington.


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