As a child, looking out the back window of our mini-van, I could see the fields of corn stretching out along either side of I-29 for miles. This could mean only two things: summer and camping! My sisters and I loved the camping adventures that would occur during the non-winter months of the Midwest. But more than just summer fun, these trips were also formative in many ways. One of the lessons we learned was the lesson of leisure.
Can one teach leisure? In one way, yes, it can be taught. However, in another way, it can’t. In some ways it is a training of the will to make choices that are in alignment of what it means to be human. Leisure also requires an inner sensitivity to ‘catch’ the inner logic of how leisure augments the experience of our humanity. True leisure can lift us up into an experience of the transcendent. As a culture we are always plugged in, notifications and reminders going off on our multiplicity of mobile devices and this can begin to erode the meaning of our existence, of searching for true happiness.
Joseph Pieper, in his classic “Leisure, the Basis of Culture” wrote, “Unless we regain the art of silence and insight, the ability for non-activity, unless we substitute true leisure for our hectic amusements, we will destroy our culture and ourselves (emphasis mine).
The ability for non-activity.
I learned this lesson while camping with my family in the beautiful State Parks of South Dakota.
Of course, there is some level of activity while camping. Take, for instance, packing and planning food for meals and the initial ordeal of getting a well-used pop-up camper too actually “pop up!” But once settled in, life was a series or relaxing events such as swimming, hiking, napping, reading in lawn chairs and meeting the other campers. There were no such things as “I-pad” anything to distract us. My dad, being the friendly-neighborhood camper, would always meet and talk to everyone. (I still think he should seek employment at a State Park). My mom, always wearing a fantastic sun hat to protect from the sun, would have a book or her magazine handy.
The campfire, though, for me, provided the greatest lesson in this “non-activity” that we would be engaged in. There is something so captivating about fire. We would spend hours around it. My Dad would get lost in it and start philosophizing. (He actually built a fire pit in our backyard so he doesn’t have to wait to go camping to enjoy them these days.) We would sing around the campfire, pray, we would make s’mores, and we would be silent. In this silence, and sitting under the stars, we could hear the chirping insects and the popping of the firewood, and I experienced God’s presence. Although my parents never sat the three of us girls down and gave us a lecture on ‘the meaning of leisure,’ we began to experience through the time in nature and simply ‘being.’
The fire also is one of the many symbols of the Holy Spirit. In the Pentecost sequence we hear proclaimed:
Come, thou Holy Spirit, come
Thou, of comforters the best;
thou, the soul’s most welcome guest;
sweet refreshment here below;
in our labor, rest most sweet…
As we seek to renew our souls by entering into leisure, let us beg the Holy Spirit to bestow His sweet rest. There is nothing He wants more than to lift our burdens and aid us to enter into rest here and into eternity.
Sister Marie Estelle, O.C.D.
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