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Leisure: Experiencing Life to the Fullest

“When those who love God try to speak of Him, their words are like the tears of the blind lions searching in the desert for water” (Wilson 289). After working through the course readings, participating in the lectures, examining my own life and digging into to Scripture, I feel as though I am that blind lion searching in the desert for water as I try to clearly articulate my philosophy of leisure. Reading the course material has been both enlightening and frustrating because I have learned new perspectives on leisure while at the same time, I have been challenged in my own thinking. My philosophy of leisure is centered on the following beliefs: “leisure” is not an activity or a place or thing-it is a state of being while one is participating in those activities. Leisure is experiencing life to the absolute fullest. Being completely captivated in the moment that the world stands still as you participate in the experience. The highest form of leisure is a state of ecstasy when you feel as though your body cannot consume another drop of the moment you are in. Leisure is life giving. Leisure looks different for every individual and is not limited to just one form of expression. Leisure moments are times in our lives when we meet the Lord face to face and enjoy the gifts He has given us. Lastly, leisure experience can be found in all things, including work.

Leisure is freedom. Free to do [fill in the blank]. When one is experiencing leisure, they have consciously decided to let go of everything apart from the present and be free to fully engage in the moment. That freedom must come from within, it is a choice of where one’s focus will be placed. A child at play is experiencing leisure because she is freely choosing to play in the sandbox. She is completely absorbed in the present activity because her focus is solely on it. Furthermore, she is not forced to play. Robert Wilson parallels play and leisure as he describes the two, “Play is chosen, not compelled; it is freely engaged in… Play, like leisure, never has to occur; hence it eludes both the ticking metronome of the clock-time and the enchained wariness of instrumental striving” (Wilson 299). Like the little girl playing in the sandbox who has no concern with the passing time, an adult experiencing leisure is lost in the moment and freely and fully engaged in the present. The experience of leisure is experiencing a state of timelessness. A month spent hiking and appreciating the beauty of the Appalachian Trail may seem like blur of passing moments just as two hours at the ocean’s shore may seem like a few minutes to a man deep in thought.

A little girl playing in the sandbox, a basketball player lost in the game, a hiker traveling the Appalachian Trail, a man sitting at the beach staring at the rolling waves contemplating his life-all of these individuals are experiencing leisure as they are fully engaged in the moment at hand. In his book Redeeming Routines, Robert Banks writes, “For it is in the midst of even the most highly focused activity when-our mental, physical, or emotional energies are called upon-that contemplative moments can occur. They occur in and through the activity in which we are engaged, sometimes precisely at the moment of the most intense involvement in it. The precondition for such glimpses into the divine life is not abstraction from the tasks at hand but genuine attentiveness to what is immediately at hand… such sacramental moments can happen in the home, at work or out in the open. They can take place as much in a crowd as on our own” (Banks 138). Leisure is not the activities one is engaged in; rather it is the state of being one is experiencing while one is participating in the moment.

Josef Pieper in his book Leisure the Basis of Culture, Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics and even Robert Wilson in The Courage to Be Leisured place limits on where, when and how one can experience leisure. However, I believe God calls us to engage in contemplative moments at any time. If the Lord created all things and all things for His glory, why must leisure be restricted to specific experiences? “For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him” (Col 1:16). Furthermore, Christ calls us to observe his presence in all things, not just through contemplation as Aristotle contends, or through silence as Pieper holds. The Message brings clarification to how everything we do should be centered around Christ, “Let every detail in your lives-words, actions, whatever-be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way” (Col 3:16).

Richard Winter in his book Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment, discusses a term that defines this experience of ultimate enjoyment in an activity. “There are moments in life that seem to be the exact opposite of boredom. The optimal experience-the experience of flow-an integration of harmony and the body, mind and emotions” (Winters 122). One of the defining characteristics of leisure is this experience of flow. A basketball player finds the participation in her sport to be an extremely fulfilling activity because she experiences ecstasy and finds fulfillment when she is competing. Similarly, a dancer feels this high as she hears the creative rhythms of the music and in turn expresses herself through her body movements. “True leisure is more like what A.H. Maslow described as “peak experience,” the apprehension of the world at full throttle, in utter involvement” (Wilson 285). God has created each of us uniquely and has designed us to experience “leisure” in different ways; it is our responsibility to seek out the ways we can experience leisure and then engage in them. Dr. Valerie Gin wrote in her essay Reversing the Curse: Practicing the Presence and Presents of God in Sport, “I became convinced that it is my responsibility and privilege to use the unique way God wired me to Honor Christ and reflect His image” (258). Leisure is participating in what the Lord has designed one to do and experiencing it to the fullest. An artist finds leisure in painting, a softball player in chasing down fly balls, a deep thinker in contemplation. Regardless of what the activity may be, leisure is the act of reflecting Christ and honoring Him through what one is doing. A more Existentialist approach to leisure contends that anything can be leisure, but not everything is leisure to everybody; Aristotle may find leisure in sitting and contemplating, while Tim Tebow finds it on the football field.

Experiencing leisure is becoming alive in the activity; leisure is life giving. An athlete can understand this as she experiences sport the way the Lord intended, the time on the court turns into wonder and moves away from performance. The athlete becomes alive as she experiences flow; everything clicks, there is a rhythm and steady of pulse of the game that seems to perfectly sync with her heart. This is divine worship. In the same light, a girl on her knees can participate in the same worship experience as she talks to her Creator. Communicating with God the way He intended-an honest and genuine dialogue turns simple words into an incredible conversation with the God of the universe. Divine worship is leisure as it is experiencing God to the fullest. Josef Pieper defines divine worship is in his book Leisure the Basis of Culture as, “A certain definite space of time set aside from working hours and days, a limited time, specially marked off (Pieper, 58). He uses the Sabbath and religious celebrations as examples of divine worship. However, I believe that divine worship can be experienced in times outside of the allotted space Pieper refers to and the examples he uses are not the only instances when we can worship the Lord. Leisure is a time when one reflects on Christ and honors Him through one’s participation in leisure.

For a Christ-follower, every second of experiencing leisure is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity. Leisure is forever linked with the Lord because like everything else, He created it and wants us to enjoy it. The Westminster Catechism says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (Westminster). Leisure is glorifying God and enjoying Him and can be clearly articulated through Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men.” Participating in leisure involves the whole heart. Being fully captivated with the present is like eternity because it seems that the earth stands still while one is engaged in the moment. A forty-minute basketball game or an hour spent in prayer is eternal-like because the athlete and the girl in prayer are experiencing the Lord with their whole hearts. Either way one looks at it, worship is leisure and leisure is worship.

Throughout his book, Pieper takes an Aristotelian approach as he makes it clear that one cannot experience leisure, or the products of leisure while one is working. “Leisure is an altogether different matter; it is no longer on the same plane; it runs at right angles to work” (Pieper 43). Aristotle believed that contemplation is the highest form of happiness. “But the activity of reason, which is contemplative, seems both to be superior in serious worth and to aim at no end beyond itself… it follows that this will be the complete happiness of man, if it be allowed a complete term of life” (Aristotle, 1105). To Aristotle (and Pieper), the ultimate experience in life is the freedom from work, to be free to sit and think, examine life, and study philosophy. “Even the western concept of leisure in most cases contains some notion of the need to get away from pressures, to have time for one’s self, in order to do exactly what one would be doing were they not required to work” (Clarke). However, I firmly believe that leisure can be experienced in work. If leisure is experiencing life with one’s whole heart, and experiencing life whole-heartedly is worshipful, how can leisure and therefore worship be limited to certain activities? I have a hard time seeing why leisure must be separated from work if you are truly enjoying your work and worshiping the Lord through it. Our culture supports the notion that work and leisure are separate; however I believe God is calling us to experience leisure in our work.

American author James Michener, once said, “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both” (Quotes). We would experience life more fully if we pursued leisure in the work place-if we found such great enjoyment on our work that we experienced flow in our daily tasks. If that basketball player sought excellence all areas of her life just as she chased after it on the court, her life would be full of more close encounters with God. If the girl kneeling in prayer sought to feel God’s heart beat in all areas of life, she would be living life more like the way God intended it to be lived. We need to be more intentional about living life to the fullest, in all ways-from the moment we wake up to the moment we go back to sleep.  

Up until this point, I have been frustrated because I thought that I did not understand the true meaning of leisure. However, after writing this paper, I have come to see that I have known my personal philosophy of leisure all along; it was just a matter of articulating it with words. Leisure is the experience, not the activity-it is the experience of contemplation-not contemplation. It is the flow in a sport-not the sport. It is the beauty of the Hands of the Creator-not the created. Leisure is experiencing life to the fullest. Leisure is a choice, a choice to be free to, freedom to let go, to fully engage and be captivated by the moment. It looks different for every individual and is not limited to certain activities. Ultimately, leisure is experiencing the Lord, glorifying and enjoying Him forever.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle. London: Oxford, 1886.

 

Banks, Robert. Redeeming the Routines (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1993) 138.

 

Clarke, Jessica. “Cultural Concepts of Leisure.” Sociology of Work, Leisure,

and Consumption”. 1997. Web. 15 Feb. 2010.

<http://legacy.lclark.edu/~soan221/97/cultureleisure.html>.

Gin, Valerie. “Reversing the Curse: Practicing the Presence and Presents of God in Sport,” The Image of God in the Human Body: Essays on Christianity and Sports. Deardorff and White. New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2008. 255-272.

The Holy Bible: New International Version.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978.

“Quotes.” James Michener Biography. 16 Feb. 2010.

<http://jamesmichener.net/more.html>.

Pieper, Josef. Leisure the Basis of Culture. New York City: Pantheon Books, Inc., 1952.

“Westminster Shorter Catechism”. 16 Feb 2010.

<http://www.reformed.org/documents/WSC.html>.

Wilson, Robert. “The Courage To Be Leisured.” Social Forces Dec. 1981: 283-303.

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