Review: Leisure and Spirituality

Leisure and SpiritualityLeisure and Spirituality by Paul Heintzman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015.

Summary: This book explores the connection between leisure and spirituality from a Christian perspective, considering contemporary and classical concepts of leisure, the perspective on leisure we may gain from the Bible, and the author’s own synthesis and critique of leisure concepts, biblical material and contemporary research.

Leisure and spirituality. For some, the only relation between these two words is that of an oxymoron. And that may be our problem. Gordon Dahl, one of the early writers on leisure and play noted that most people, “tend to worship their work, to work at their play, and to play at their worship.” Paul Heintzman, a leisure studies professor at the University of Ottawa, has given us a measured, clear and thoughtful assessment of the contemporary, classical, and biblical material related to these ideas along with findings from contemporary research in this field.

The book begins by exploring concepts of leisure and their contemporary expressions, outlining seven conceptions: leisure as a state of being, leisure as non-work activity, leisure as free time, leisure as a symbol of social class, leisure as a state of mind (flow experiences for example), feminist conceptions of leisure, and holistic leisure. He explores the history of the leisure concept which he sees expressed both in Greek and monastic Christian circles as contemplation, a state of being; and leisure as activity, the primary conception of leisure in the Reformation and Renaissance, conceiving of work as primary and leisure as restorative.

Heintzman turns to the biblical material beginning with the commands around sabbath and its support of an egalitarian view of life, a rhythm of work and rest, and qualitative renewal and celebration. He explores the use of “rest” in the Bible and finds again a qualitative emphasis on the enjoyment of peace, abundance, and freedom, centered around a secure relationship with God in Christ. He then considers other related words, most notably the use of schole’ in the Septuagint translation of Psalm 46:10, rendering it, as Josef Pieper did, “have leisure and know that I am God.” which certainly supports a contemplative notion of leisure. He also notes in Israel’s festivals a more active expression of leisure. He follows this with an exploration of work in the Bible and its relation to leisure.

In the concluding chapters of the book, he applies the biblical material to a critique of the different concepts of leisure, arguing for a holistic view that combines contemplative and active conceptions of leisure. He contends for an identity view with regard to a work-leisure ethic in which work and leisure are not fragmented into separate aspects of a life but experienced simultaneously by whole persons, where we “rest in our work”. He then turns to eight processes that have been found in research to enhance spirituality, considers how these help in coping with stress, and concludes with arguing for the mean found in the book of Ecclesiastes between hedonistic pleasure seeking and compulsive workaholism–the enjoyment of the goodness of our lives in rhythms of work and rest.

This is an important work in several ways. I did quite a bit of reading on the theology of work in the 1980s, covering the ground Heintzman covers. What I discovered, and Heintzman confirms in his literature review, is that little has been written in this area since then and so this book explores work, rest and leisure for a new generation. In addition, Heintzman gives us a thorough and clear overview of conceptions of leisure including those of Veblen on the leisure class, and feminist perspectives, that might not be as commonly considered. What I found most valuable, however, was the latter part of the book where Heintzman gives his own critique and synthesis of all this material. The eight practices he advocates out of his research may be helpful for those who engage in spiritual direction or retreat planning as well as those leading recreation programs, particularly in Christian settings. Many of us still struggle with reconciling the ideas of leisure and spirituality. After reading Heintzman’s book, these are a bit less of an oxymoron for me.

_____________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Vacations With, or From God

This is probably a hazard of being employed in a Christian organization. Since so much of what we are doing is connected with our faith and helping people know Christ, it is sometimes a temptation on vacations to take a vacation from God. Maybe this is a problem others don’t have, but the fact that Rich (Hagopian, our pastor) addressed this on Sunday suggests that it may be.

 

Rich helpfully observed that developing regular spiritual disciplines can be helpful in this regard. I sometimes refer to these as habits of faithfulness, habits similar to brushing our teeth, that put us in the place where we are paying attention to God. And it is the case that things like my personal Bible reading and prayer do serve as times to think over the vacation day ahead and offer that, and myself to God.

Sometimes though, I think I look at vacation as a time to let down on the discipline and I wonder how many others deal with this? Many of us live highly scheduled lives between our work, family, church, and other obligations. Vacation is a welcome break from all that. And I think sometimes I, at least, am tempted to take vacations from God because I start to associate Him with all that discipline of a highly scheduled life that I long to get away from for a week or so.

It seems to me that vacation can be a time of hearing afresh the invitation of Jesus found in Matthew 11:28-30“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus invitation is “come to me and find rest”. I think that is what we often are longing for, even in the midst of all our travel plans or whatever else we have in mind for our vacations. So I wonder, as we plan our vacations do we ask Jesus to help us rest, to help us find the rest we need in him?

Here are some of the disciplines of rest that have helped me:

  • Sleep! Many of us are racking up sleep deficits and don’t discover how tired we are until we slow down. I’m struck that when Elijah ran for his life from Jezebel’s threats (1 Kings 19), God let him sleep and eat before he spoke anything to him. Plan a day or two to simply sleep until you wake up without alarms. Then thank God for his gift of sleep!
  • Unplug. I have a hard time with this, but I find when I turn off the computer and get off the ‘net, I also mute the chatter of hundreds of voices so that I can hear the one that matters.
  • Long wandering prayer. David Hansen wrote a book by this title in which he described his long, leisurely walks in the woods, or by a fishing stream (it could be by the shore, or even a quiet city street in early morning) where he just noticed, thought, and prayed as things came to mind, and listened for God.
  • Slow, reflective reading of scripture, maybe a short portion that I think about over several days. A form of this is lectio divina which Rich mentioned and has provided resources for in the past.

One of the curious things about Jesus’ invitation to rest is that it is actually an invitation to rest, not from our work, but in the midst of our work. It’s not a rest from all yokes but the rest that comes from being in the yoke with Jesus, following his lead, going at his pace. I wonder if vacations can be a time where we can “re-yoke” if we have slipped the yoke.

And this might be helpful for those who would say, “I’ve not been very good at spiritual disciplines in everyday life.” You might ask yourself during vacation, what one or two ways of “resting with Jesus” do you want to carry back into every day life and how will you do it? Ben was wise in his post to suggest starting small. Five minutes of being quiet with Jesus each day, or five minutes reading and thinking about a verse of scripture, or one “long wandering prayer walk” a week might be all you do. But it will help you carry the “rest” of your vacation time with God into the rest of your life.

Here’s hoping you have a “restful” vacation with God!

[This post also appears in Going Deeper, a blog our church hosts to “go deeper” in response to our pastor’s weekly messages]