As a summer special, Scholé Sisters is publishing a blog series through Josef Pieper’s Leisure, the Basis of Culture. This is the book that brought scholé back into our vocabulary. Instead of writing about the book or writing additional commentary, however, we’re taking a thought-by-thought paraphrase approach, chapter-by-chapter. Like The Message is to the Bible, so this series is to Leisure: common idiom, loose paraphrase, with some clarifications and connections and elaborations added for the reader’s benefit. Enjoy!
So then how is leisure even possible for us now? And is it still relevant? Should we even attempt to restore it? Some might say that in leisure we are fully human, or that leisure deepens or nurtures our humanity. While that might be true, that is not the fundamental reason we need leisure.
And, remember that leisure is simply scholé, translated.
The heart of leisure is festival.
In festive celebration, all the elements of scholé, of leisure, come together: relaxation, receptivity, active participation in leisure, enjoyment of life instead of pushing life forward.
The heart of festival is worship. Therefore, since the heart of leisure is festival and the heart of festival is worship, then the heart of leisure is ultimately worship as well.
To be at leisure in a worshipful, festive mode of being is to be in harmony with the world as it is. Days of festivity and worship have a different feel than everyday life. And there is no more intense harmony with the world than that found in the praise of God almighty, the worship of the Creator of all.
Many find this statement uncomfortable, even if they’d agree with it. Yet, it’s true. Let us embrace truth. Let us live in harmony with true truth. Then, and only then, will we find leisure.
There is no festival that does not derive its existence and purpose from a cult – that is, from worship. And culture then, springs as well from the life of worship. What is worshiped brings about culture.
It is not that this should be so, but rather it is how it actually is, all the time, every time.
Even in the anti-religious French Revolution which attempted to establish celebration without connection to divinity or eternity or ultimate reality, but none of their attempts lasted. They had no staying power. Labor Day might be a day off, but there is no cultural meaning to it, no true festivity. Such “holidays” are not. They are only days off work – for some.
What is the difference in cultural significance between Labor Day (and the many others like it which have already died and been forgotten) and Christmas or Easter, which even unbelievers connect with and enjoy celebrating? Roots in worship, connection to true, transcendental meaning of life.
This is true for holidays and it is true for leisure.
Leisure without worship, leisure severed from deep harmony with the world as it truly is, is only frivolous time off.
Look at ancient times. When they had time off work, what was it for? It was for sacrificing, for cultic celebrations, for worship. They didn’t merely nap and take breaks when their culture gave them a day off. The day off had purpose and meaning. It was for a party – and not simply a gratification of the senses party, but a party that connected them to the meaning of their life and work and everyday duties. Celebrations make sense of all the rest.
”Worship is to time as the temple is to space.”
A temple dedicates not only space, but a multitude of resources – “wasted” for all practical purposes in service to and devotion for the gods.
In the same way, festivals are dedicated swathes of time set aside, severed from practical use, for religious connection.
The seventh day of the Jewish week is just such a time period.
However, in a world of total work, where everything is measured in monetary value and productive output, such dedication of either resources or time is deemed wasteful. Not only unnecessary, but even unethical.
The only reason to have a day off, according to the philosophy of the utilitarian materialist, is so as to return a better worker. So Labor Days are acceptable breaks, because such days off admit of no higher transcendent meaning than the world of work itself. There might even be entertainments – whether Roman gladiatorial games or American movies and sports events – but would anyone dignify these amusements with the name of festival?
Thus the world of the man who finds his meaning in his career is poor, sterile, shallow. Although filled with material goods, it has no depth, no meaning, no true satisfaction. There is no true wealth, no overflow of life, that will spring from the materialist.
Ironically, the overflow pouring forth from the truly festive, leisured worshiper is due to sacrifice rather than hoarding.
A sacrifice is something voluntarily offered, a gift. A sacrifice is never practically useful – quite the opposite. The wealth of the festive peasant outstrips the wealth of the merchant, for from his personal stock of inner riches, the festive worshiper gives bountifully, generously, from a source that the material world cannot touch. His wealth is that which neither moth nor rust destroy; it is an overflow released from the constraints of this world and free to leap to the next, forming a connection and thence a real joy.
But without this connection to worship, to ultimate meaning, to harmony with the true reality of the world, leisure has not only no meaning but no real value.
”When separated from worship, leisure becomes toilsome, and work becomes inhuman.”
With the rise of materialist productivity comes the corresponding rise of time-killing and boredom. We must break from work, but we have nothing to do with that time but kill it, but spend it in frivolous, meaningless amusement.
Without real leisure, without the leisured time of worship, we become restless. And after restlessness comes despair.
Despair serves the idol of the economy, for it motivates one to work. Work drowns out the hollow emptiness inside. Work becomes the means of ignoring the poverty of our existence.
Yet, severed from genuine festivity and true leisure, even the work which should be our portion and our duty becomes inhuman, hopeless, meaningless.
It is not our income level, social class, or any other outer circumstance that creates our alienation. We are alienated from others and from ourselves when we are cut off from our created purpose: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.