+HAVING LEISURE TIME Chapter Talk, 29 Sep. 2019
This morning I would like to talk about the value of leisure time in our lives as monks. I am drawing again from Michael Casey, his book Grace, on the Journey to God. The wisdom of what Casey shares with us is that leisure is not the opposite of work as is generally supposed but, as practiced in our monastic tradition, it is right in the midst of our work “a time and space of freedom and recuperation, in which the deep self can find fuller expression and, eventually, reach its perfection.”
We are about to move into our busy season of the year with the afternoon pre-packing about to begin and then the Thanksgiving and Christmas shipping. Tt is helpful to realize this extra work is not opposed to a holy leisure and may even serve its very purpose. As Casey reminds us:
“If I give myself entirely to the task at hand, engaging my skills and putting my heart in what I am doing, it may not matter much what the work is. Whatever it is, I will come away refreshed and happy and the task itself will probably be better done. “
The practice of holy leisure becomes “the natural overflow of a heart that is undivided, that simply lives each moment and performs each task as though nothing else in the world mattered.” I have seen this go on again and again during the shipping season, when our work demands our full attention while underway. To select the right items listed on the shipping label, to pack them carefully in the right box and have it sealed properly, requires real concentration. To do so becomes when rightly motivated, our way of serving the living God and meeting the needs of the community.
At the same time, as monks we are not to be defined by the work we do, for our life exists “primarily to facilitate the spiritual growth of those” who participate in it. There is always an ongoing discernment that goes on. While we need to work to support ourselves, we have to be careful not to exclude other activities that have as their main purpose the enrichment of the lives of the members. Casey brings to our attention that:
“Insofar as there is the possibility of choice, the range of activities embraced, encouraged, or allowed should grow out of the possibilities present by gifts and talents of each. Such occupations offer the possibility of self-expression and ultimately will be found to be fulfilling and character-forming.”
We advertise our products as made by the monks themselves and this is more than just a clever selling pitch. What our life represents to those who buy from us is something they honor and value as truly contributing to the improvement of society and the values that will sustain it. I would like to think that our society and those who support us are growing in appreciation of what builds up rather than undermines authentic human growth for the future.
Michael Casey draws on Josef Pieper’s book Leisure, the Basis of Culture that many have probably read. It was a favorite of Fr Flavian who served as abbot of the community after Dom James. Pieper tells us:
“Leisure is a form of silence which is the prerequisite of the apprehension of reality. Leisure is a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but also the capacity of steeping oneself in the whole of creation.”
Leisure has a wonderful way of grounding us in what’s really going on, freeing us from all forms of distraction that would pull us away from dealing with what needs to be done at a given time in our lives. It implies a deep appreciation of silence that is so treasured by our way of life. It is a silence “not only as the absence of outward noise and clamor, but also as an inner stillness that is the hallmark of an undivided heart. “ Anyone who has tried to enter into conversation with someone who is distracted or while you yourself are preoccupied with an aside, knows the value of total presence to one another. Authentic prayer, where we are fully open to the divine presence is dependent on just this kind of inner stillness. It is this that holy leisure cultivates in us.
As is true of anything precious in our lives, leisure is also a very fragile reality to maintain. Casey tells us, and I will end with this quote:
“[Leisure}…needs to be defended; there are too many things that can displace it or so modify it that it loses its particular character. A group that really tries to give its members room to breathe is a blessing. Time and space are, of their very nature, quantifiable and therefore limited. The gift of time is a very precious one: time for oneself, time for one another, time to listen, encourage, and support, time to step back and discern, to assess the quality of actions, time to develop culture and ritual and good liturgy. Space for people to grow, space for different gifts, space for the stranger, space to pass through crises. Leisure is, as Pope John Paul II often insisted, about building a culture of humanization.”