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Visions Of Hope: Leisure

"In our theological training we were told it was important to take a day off a week in our ministry. This is often difficult to do in a hectic term, so at Christmas, when college is closed, I make up for this by going to Switzerland to look after a church in Miirren, near Interlaken,'' writes William Sykes.

Leisure—opportunity to do, afforded by free time, time at one's disposal, not occupied, also deliberately without hurry


Murren is situated in a delightful spot 4,000 feet up in the mountains of the Bernese Oberland. Inaccessible by road, there are no cars in the village, so it is quiet and peaceful, and scenically beautiful. It is the home of down-hill skiing, and very popular with members of the Kandahar Ski Club, who have a training programme during the Christmas and New Year period. On Christmas Eve, the church is almost full for the midnight Communion service, and on Christmas Day, at the evening festival of nine lessons and carols, standing room only.

When Christmas duties have been completed, 'leisure' begins and I take to the slopes. Miirren faces east and being at a high altitude enjoys long hours of sunshine. Most of the slopes are steep, so skiing is both challenging and demanding. The air is crystal clear and the views of the mountains breathtaking. I like to take things at a leisurely pace and unwind after a term in college. It's an excellent place for contemplation and for re-charging one's batteries. In addition to excellent skiing facilities, Miirren boasts a modern sports centre for ice-skating, curling, indoor swimming, squash, and a large well-equipped gym for many indoor sports. No wonder people come back to Miirren year after year. It is a perfect place for leisure.

Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest.
Exodus 23:12

The wisdom of a learned man cometh by opportunity of leisure; and he that hath little business shall become wise.
Ecclesiasticus 38:24 (AV)

Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11:28

Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while. For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
Mark 6:31

Rest belongs to the work as the eyelids to the eyes.
Rabindranath Tagore, 'Stray Birds', XXIV, in Collected Poems & Plays of Rabindranath Tagore, Macmillan & Co., 1936,
page 290

There is an appetite of the eye, of the ear, and of every sense, for which God has provided the material.
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit Charles Burnet & Co., 1887, page 78

Devoting our whole life to make preparation for its security, we have no leisure to profit by life itself.
Leo Tolstoy, What I Believe ('My Religion'), C.W. Daniel, 1922, page 172

A sound schooling should have a dual aim—to equip a man for hours of work and for hours of leisure. They interact; if the leisure is misspent, the work will suffer.
Norman Douglas, An Almanac, Chatto & Windus in association with Seeker & Warburg, 1945, page 2

Let my doing nothing when I have nothing to do become untroubled in its depth of peace like the evening in the seashore when the water is silent.
Rabindranath Tagore, 'Stray Birds', CCVII, in Collected Poems & Plays of Rabindranath Tagore, Macmillan & Co.,
1936, page 314

Life consists of much more than work; it includes, for instance, love, the sense of beauty or aesthetic enjoyment, worship, philanthropy and social, physical, and other pleasures of many kinds. A day is not necessarily 'lost,' because it is entirely spent in leisure or enjoyment.
J.T. Hackett, My Commonplace Book, Macmillan and Co., 1923, page 152

Leisure is pain; take off our chariot wheels; How heavily we drag the load of life! Blest leisure is our curse; like that of Cain, It makes us wander, wander earth around To fly that tyrant, Thought.
Edward Young, 'Night Thoughts', xi. 125, in Young's Complete Poems, William Tegg and Co., 1854, volume I, page 17

All too often modern man becomes the plaything of his circumstances because he no longer has any leisure time, or rather, he doesn't know how to provide himself with the leisure he needs to stop for a moment and take a good look at himself. He hasn't time to become aware of himself as a person.
Michel Quoist, The Christian Response, Gill and Macmillan, 1965, page 73

Idleness and the incapacity for leisure correspond with one another; leisure is the contrary of both. Leisure is only possible to a man who is at one with himself and also at one with the world. These are the presuppositions of leisure, for leisure is an affirmation. Idleness on the other hand, is rooted in the omission of these two affirmations.
Josef Pieper, in W.H. Auden and Louis Kronemberger, editors, The Faber Book of Aphorisms, Faber and Faber, 1978,
page 47

Would that I could loiter! Everything I do I hurry, and in the midst of pleasure press forward to the end. I swallow and never taste. This vice infects very high up and prevents the enjoyments of anything beautiful, for I have not the patience to stay long enough with it. It drives me from life to the consideration of death.
Mark Rutherford, Last Pages From a Journal, Oxford University Press, 1915, page 287

The more intense and difficult community life becomes, and the more tension and struggles it produces, then the more we need times of relaxation. When we feel strung up, tense and incapable of praying or listening, then we should take some rest—or even get away for a few days.
Some people don't know what to do with free time. They spend hours just sitting about and talking. It is sad if people have no interest outside the community, if they have given up reading, if they don't enjoy simple pleasures like walking and listening to music. We have to help each other keep alive the personal interests which help us relax and re-create us.
Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1991, page 180

Compared with the exclusive ideal of work as activity, leisure implies (in the first place) an attitude of non-activity, of inward calm, of silence; it means not being 'busy,' but letting things happen.
Leisure is a form of silence, of that silence which is the prerequisite of the apprehension of reality: only the silent hear and those who do not remain silent do not hear. Silence, as it is used in this context, does not mean 'dumbness' or 'noiselessness'; it means more nearly that the soul's power to 'answer' to the reality of the world is left undisturbed. For leisure is a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation.
Josef Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, translated by Alexander Dru, Faber and Faber, 1952, page 52
A new element of relaxation and of education for leisure is important in senior education. This element, present in good primary schools, is lamentably lost in the upper reaches of school life. All this means a new stress upon creativity, therapeutic drama, art and writing, much more work in small groups; and timetabled time for these things. The arts must be rescued and put to their proper use as enrichments of the human spirit: these attitudes will then carry over into life outside school. Just now the vandalism on buses, the scrawling on walls, the drunkenness and the vulgarity and basic poverty of ideas for spending leisure are as much our failure as those of the young people who will not only enjoy their parties and their occasional sowings of wild oats, but also walking, mountaineering, painting, writing, making music, undertaking social and political research even. And these things could be enjoyed as much as the bashing up of property.
Roy Stevens, Education and the Death of Love, Epworth Press, 1978, page 144

Celebrations certainly have a role in helping people to accept the sufferings of everyday life by offering them a chance to relax and let go. But to see them as nothing but a form of escape or drug, is to fail to understand human nature. We all live a daily life which brings its own weariness: we make things dirty, we clean them, we plough, sow, and harvest. We have long hours to travel to work, which is frustrating; and at work there is discipline, efficiency and a programme to be respected, and then there is the stress. In family life there are sometimes barriers and lack of communication between people; we may close ourselves off from others in television, books or other things, feeling guilty and making others feel guilty; inside us there is a lot of inner pain. As we need the day for work, activity, prayer, rejoicing and the night for sleep and, as we need the four seasons with their different climates, so too we need the drudgery of dailiness and the joys of celebration; we need the work day and the sabbath. Our human hearts need something beyond the limitations and frustrations of the daily grind. We thirst for a happiness which seems unattainable on earth. We crave the infinite, the universal, the eternal—something which gives a sense to human life and its irksome daily routines. A festival is a sign of heaven. It symbolizes our deepest aspiration—an experience of total communion.
Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1991, page 314

I often hear talk of people committed to social action or in communities who are 'burned out'. These people have been too generous; they have thrown themselves into activity which has finally destroyed them emotionally. They have not known how to relax and to be refreshed. Those in responsibility must teach such people the discipline of physical rest and relaxation, and the need for spiritual nourishment and for fixing clear priorities. They must also set an example.
Many people get burned out because, perhaps unconsciously, some part of them is rejecting the need to relax and find a harmonious rhythm of life for themselves. In their over-activity they are fleeing from something, sometimes because of deep unconscious guilt feelings. Maybe they do not really want to put down roots in the community and stay for the long haul. They may be too attached to their function, perhaps even identified with it. They want to control everything, and perhaps also want to appear to be perfect, or at least a perfect hero! They have not yet learned how to live; they are not yet free inside themselves; they have not yet discovered the wisdom of the present moment, which can frequently mean saying 'no' to people.
These people need a spiritual guide to help them look at themselves and discover why they have not the freedom to stop, and what is the cause of their compulsive need to do things. They need someone who can help them stand back and relax enough to clarify their own motives and become people living with other people, children among other children. God has given each of us an intelligence. It may not be very great, but it is great enough for us to reflect on what we need to order to live what we are called to live—community. These over-active people, it seems, can be fleeing from their own cry for friendship and love, from their own sensitivity and maybe from their inner anguish and agitation. They may be afraid of their emotions, of their own sexuality. They need to reflect on their own deep needs and to refind the child in themselves which is crying because it feels alone. Our bodies need to relax, but so do our hearts, in secure and unthreatening relationships.
Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1991, page 177


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