“There can be no real advancement in knowledge unless it first begins in leisure and wonder, where the controlling motive throughout remains to be delight and love.”

James Taylor, Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education

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

Josef Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture

The addition of words like “workaholic” as well as programs to help people find their “work – life balance” have entered American culture over the last few years and point to a common problem: Too many of us live to work. We have forgotten who we are, and who we truly live for.

In this blog:

  • St. John Paul II encouraged Catholics to remember the importance of keeping Sundays holy days for family and leisure.
  • Leisure is not idleness but should involve activity that reignites our sense of wonder at God’s work in creation. It renews us and reminds us what it means to be truly human.
  •  At the Regina Academies, leisure and play are intentional pursuits because we understand that busyness and distraction are the enemies of an integrated life.

The English poet and philosopher, David Whyte, hinted at the source of the problem in secular terms when he wrote that:

“The current understanding of work-life balance is too simplistic. People find it hard to balance work with family, family with self, because it might not be a question of balance. Some other dynamic is in play, something to do with a very human attempt at happiness that does not quantify different parts of life and then set them against one another. We are collectively exhausted because of our inability to hold competing parts of ourselves together in a more integrated way.”

The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship, 2010

Saint John Paul II discussed this “other dynamic” in his encyclical letter, Dies Domini (The Day of the Lord). He reminded us of how Christians are to integrate our “competing parts” in the context of a Christian anthropology. He wrote that:

“The alternation between work and rest, built into human nature, is willed by God himself, as appears in the creation story in the Book of Genesis: rest is something ‘sacred’, because it is man’s way of withdrawing from the sometimes excessively demanding cycle of earthly tasks in order to renew his awareness that everything is the work of God.”

Dies Domini, #65

St. John Paul II wrote to remind an increasingly secular world of the importance of keeping the Lord’s Day holy. But, how can we keep the Lord’s Day holy if we don’t allow it to orient the remaining six days of the week? He wrote, “For Christians, Sunday is ‘the fundamental feast day,’ established not only to mark the succession of time but to reveal time’s deeper meaning.” (DD, #2)

The Church teaches that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life.” The Sunday rest, centered around the celebration of the Eucharist, sanctifies all time – not just Sunday. It should remind of us who we are as Christians, that we are created in God’s image and redeemed by the sacrifice of Calvary.

Knowing, loving, and serving the resurrected Lord is a hallmark of an integrated life during both rest and labor.

The Importance of Leisure and Play in Integral Human Development

With St. John Paul II, the Regina Academies believe that leisure and play are essential in forming healthy minds and bodies. It is the reason why leisure and play are a hallmark of a Regina education.

Leisure – not to be confused with idleness – is essential for a well-ordered and properly integrated life. It grounds our relationship to information and knowledge and the Regina curriculum is all about relationships… most especially, our relationship with God and with neighbor.

If we stop to remember that “everything is the work of God,” we are moved to wonder at God’s work. His work in creation, in the lives of others, and perhaps most importantly in ourselves. Leisure provides us the freedom to wonder as the psalmist wondered…

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the starts, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet, You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty.

Psalm 8

A life without leisure has no room for this kind of wonder. Without wonder, life becomes drudgery and discouragement leading to the sin of acedia, and ultimately disbelief.  

In his book, Leisure the Basis of Culture, the German philosopher Josef Pieper, wrote:

The opposite of acedia is not the industrious spirit of the daily effort to make a living, but rather the cheerful affirmation by man of his own existence, of the world as a whole, and of God — of Love, that is, from which arises that special freshness of action, which would never be confused by anyone [who has] any experience with the narrow activity of the “workaholic.”

We Americans, surrounded by our devices and other distractions, tend to use our available “spare time” to escape into idleness and amusements. Neil Postman wrote about this American cultural problem in a 1985 book he appropriately called: Amusing Ourselves to Death.  

The rest that both St. John Paul II and Josef Pieper were referring to is not idly watching banal movies or television shows, or playing video games. True leisure restores and renews us because it is time spent remembering what it means to be truly human. To be truly human, we must listen to the psalmist who tells us to “Be still, and know that I am God!” (Ps 46:10)

True humanity is acknowledging the dignity we were given at our creation when God “breathed” into Adam the breath of life. If we think we are just human, we have forgotten our true identity as one deeply loved by a God who “breathed” his spirit into us and has invited us to share in his divine life. We have pushed aside our deeply human need to live in relationship with the Divine.

To quote Pieper again, “In leisure … the truly human is rescued and preserved precisely because the area of the “just human” is left behind.”

In leisure we give God the opportunity to remind us of who we truly are.

 Again, Pieper writes:

“The surge of new life that flows out to us when we give ourselves to the contemplation of a blossoming rose, a sleeping child, or of a divine mystery — is this not like the surge of life that comes from deep, dreamless sleep?”

The refreshment that leisure brings renews us, because it opens us to grace – to God’s love that he shares with us when we offer our time to him.

Leisure and Play at the Regina Academies

The Regina Academies have high academic expectations for our students, but rigor and leisure are not mutually exclusive. If anything, leisure, properly understood, is the complement to rigor. As the above quote of St. John Paul II stated, “The alternation between work and rest, built into human nature, is willed by God himself.”

Play is the primary mode of learning in the very young child. It activates the body and engages the mind in an imaginative way. It allows them to think differently. Outdoor spaces, where available, provide a unique classroom for learning through wonder. Through play the child has the time to express himself and his life in word and deed. It is the forerunner to formal narration and is a signpost of comprehension when formal texts begin to be introduced to the student.

Classrooms across all grades nurture wonder and curiosity with centers for exploration. The natural world is always a great teacher, and so the outside world is brought in for the student to handle, observe and freely sketch. These can be tied to seasons or themes in the curriculum. Hands-on projects continue in the middle school and high school years and are not abandoned as the grades advance. These opportunities often serve to imbed in the student the academic content being taught.

The older child, already shaped by engaging his narration and comprehension with action and verbal expression, is then able to move his ideas into writing and a more refined articulation of thoughts in discussion. In fact, the Socratic method, so important in classical education in the upper grades, frees students to contemplate texts and ideas in relationship to others and outside of the typical lecture format of instruction that occurs in other schools.

Of course, prayer, attendance at Mass, and visits to the Blessed Sacrament are critical opportunities in our schools for students to be refreshed by opening themselves to God’s grace and guidance. There they ponder the most noble of the Good, True, and Beautiful… God himself.

Leisure is an intentional pursuit for our students at the Regina Academies because we know that busyness and distraction are the enemies of an integrated life. Wisdom can only grow through a relationship with God, and leisure is where that relationship begins and is nourished.

*Photograph: Digging for clams in Raskoff, Brittany.