Leisure: The Basis of Culture, chapter 3

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Chapter 3 is the pay-off chapter. I barely comprehended chapter 2, but chapter 3 was excellent and clarifying. In reading it, bits and pieces I’d picked up here and there were brought together and tied together with a beautiful bow. Even if you aren’t following along, chapter 3 is worth reading as a stand-alone essay.

However, I must say that as I read more, I become more and more annoyed with the translator’s use of punctuation.

Leisure: The Basis of Culture
Chapter 3

Pieper’s Main Point

Pieper spent this chapter establishing what leisure is, mostly based on contrast with what leisure is not.

So, leisure, in his use of the word, is a state of soul rather than of body. It is rest, the rest whose source is Christ, and that rest opens up the soul to hearing and receiving truth. “Rest” has been our pastor’s “thing” for a couple years now, so I have already gone through the circles and thoughts and conversations on what that does and doesn’t mean. Therefore, as soon as Pieper used the word “rest” and defined leisure as a state of the soul, it all immediately clicked.

Leisure is not only not idleness, it is actually opposed to idleness and sloth. Pieper demonstrates how idleness and sloth are actually the flip side of the coin with the workaholic — both the workaholic and the lazy bum are restless souls. Both reject who they are created to be and how God made the world. They try to drown out their soul’s distress or despair through either incessant industry or through zoning out. In Pieper’s model, these are two manifestations of the same problem.

So, leisure is a soul at peace, with a deep faith and trust, open to accept and affirm the world and life as it is given him with a glad heart. Not-leisure is acedia, that old medieval word for apathy of the soul, which generally leads to depression and despair. The man at leisure in soul is a man in harmony with the world as a whole and his own little fragmented part of life, willing to receive it with joy, looking to connect his life to the big grand picture God is painting, looking and watching and waiting with baited breath to see how all these seemingly random bits fit together and see also what God will do next. Acedia, on the other hand, is ultimately “disagreement with oneself,” refusing to define yourself in God’s terms, to match your life and actions and mind to God’s decrees. You refuse to be what you are, and so you either cover it up by being something else and doing so industriously to cover up the disquiet in your soul, or you simply refuse to be much of anything at all.

Quotes to discuss

Leisure is not necessarily present in all the external things like “breaks,” “time off,” “weekend,” “vacation,” and so on — it is a condition of the soul.

Leisure is a form of that stillness that is the necessary preparation for accepting reality; only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still cannot hear.

Leisure is the disposition of receptive understanding, of contemplative beholding, and immersion — in the real.

Leisure is not the attitude of the one who intervenes but of the one who opens himself; not of someone who seizes but of the one who lets go, who lets himself go, and “go under,” almost as someone who falls asleep must let himself go.

And “submit” means to place yourself under, so leisure is a form of submission to the way the world works and to life — as providentially ordered.

Leisure is the condition of considering thing in a celebrating spirit.

Leisure is only possible in the assumption that man is not only in harmony with himself but also that he is in agreement with the world and its meaning. Leisure lives on affirmation. It is not the same as the absence of activity; it is not the same thing as quiet, or even as an inner quiet. It is rather like the stillness in the conversation of lovers, which i fed by their oneness.

The leisure of man includes within itself a celebratory, approving, lingering gaze of the inner eye on the reality of creation.

Leisure is not justified in making the functionary as trouble-free in operation as possible…but rather in keeping the functionary human…and this means that the human being does not disappear into the parceled-out world of his limited work-a-day function, but instead remains capable of taking in the world as a whole, and thereby to realize himself as a being who is oriented toward the whole of existence.

So leisure isn’t automatic in times of inactivity, and leisure isn’t automatically excluded in times of labor. After all, almost all the examples so far in the book club entries about moments of “enlightenment” came while the hands were usefully occupied. Leisure is the disposition to be quiet in soul, receptive to God’s will, to be contemplative and observant and interested. Times of physical rest and quiet are necessary, too, but are not the gist of what he’s talking about. “Rest” from your anxieties and worries and hurry-up mentality, not from performing your actual duties, and you are close to a life of leisure. The times of inactivity and absolute quiet can be the testing moments. In those moments, are you at peace or are you lost and restless and searching for your electronic devices? Can you take a walk and look at trees and birds and people and buildings and enjoy it without music, without an agenda on the mind to think about? That’s the introvert version of an iPod or cell phone, I think: having a topic to be thought over, and doing so in a closed-off, “rehearsal” sort of thinking pattern. At least, that’s true for this introvert. :)

I loved the connection between leisure and celebration. Traditions, celebrations, and decorations are on my “to figure out” docket for 2010, so my eyes brightened when it came up in this context. Leisure is the mindset necessary for real celebration. Yet how often do parties and celebrations seem like another huge weight, another to-do, a heavy burden? Pretty often. Something has got to be wrong, then, I figure, but what is it? It’s the state of soul, the state of mind. In the utility model, celebrations are a big waste of time and effort and money. In the productivity model, celebrations are a huge opportunity to show off and be uber-productive and add a million more extra things to the to-do list. In the leisure model, celebrations recover their child-like excitement, anticipation, and enthusiasm for life.

To festival belong, “peace, intensity of life, and contemplation all at once.” The holding of a festival means an affirmation of the basic meaning of thre world, and an agreement with it, and in fact it means to live out and fulfill one’s inclusion in the world, in an extraordinary manner, different from the everyday. The festival is the origin of leisure, its inmost and ever-central source.

There’s something to keep in mind, especially as I just realized this week I’m practically “behind” already on Christmas things I planned to make this year. :)


Other participants’ posts are linked at Cindy’s blog.
The book is available online, also.


All my Leisure book club posts are indexed here.