Leisure may help us find the meaningful moments in lifeBy: David Gibson
A fond hope for many of us is that our leisure time will prove rewarding, enjoyable, relaxing, even fun. Tacked onto our leisure time are some great expectations.
Some people plan far in advance for a few days away from the “business” of life. Some budget carefully (or spend recklessly) to assure their time off is satisfying.
Still others invest time and energy in an engaging hobby or a sport guaranteed to turn their attention away from life’s daily stresses.
Leisure time clearly matters to most people.
Yet, there are those who feel ambivalent about leisure time. They may sense that leisure takes them away from work, viewed as life’s real business.
They may see leisure’s true value solely in its capacity to restore physical energy, to clear one’s head and get ready for a return to work.
Could that be leisure’s main purpose?
I find that leisure improves my sight and hearing. When I am not in a hurry, I see my grandchildren’s faces differently. I hear the sound of their voices in ways that help me understand what really interests or concerns them.
Children, I suspect, need our leisure time, even when we, suffering the pressures of real life, experience difficulty making time for it.
To believe that leisure’s main purpose is work-related is to risk feeling guilty about setting work aside. Alternatively, people could conclude that leisure is a waste of time.
Everywhere I go I see people working–on beaches, while eating out with a spouse, in theaters, in cars. For many, having technology at arm’s length means that work never must be left behind.
Necessary in modern world
During a 2007 visit to Austria, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about leisure time as “something good and necessary, especially amid the mad rush of the modern world.”
However, the pope said that “if leisure time lacks an inner focus, an overall sense of direction, then ultimately it becomes wasted time that neither strengthens nor builds us up.”
That’s how leisure can become wasted time, but not because it takes us away from work.
Pope Benedict’s remarks focused on Sunday, suggesting that this day of rest offers opportunities to learn to live and to discover what truly matters.
If my notion of leisure confines it to a narrow field of options, it might be hard to imagine how it could build me up. What is leisure, especially in societies that ceaselessly advertise costly events and exotic getaways?
–Leisure encompasses entertainment. No problem there. But has leisure run off track if sometimes it is not entertaining?
–Leisure tends to get us busy with activities that differ from the daily work grind. Has something gone wrong when leisure gets us busy with the people who matter most to us?
–Leisure and relaxation go hand in hand. But do we fail when leisure allows room for a rewarding, much-needed conversation that demands a lot of us?
Granting conversation its place on our list of rewarding leisure activities seems vital in light of a concern that many social commentators and religious leaders describe. They ask not only whether life’s rapid pace leads many to short-change leisure, but whether our devotion to the new technologies keeps us from devoting time to each other.
Canadian Bp. Donald Bolen of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, talked about the value of conversation in a 2011 pastoral letter.
He acknowledged the countless ways the Internet, cellphones, text messaging, social media, and other means of communication constitute a blessing. He also noted that these technologies have dramatically changed the way human beings relate to each other.
Social networking, Skype, and other new technologies enable many to communicate rewardingly with relatives and friends in distant places.
Yet, the powerful draw of these technologies may in turn pull family members under the same roof away from each other.
Besides communicating with others outside the home, some may spend their leisure time alone, playing games, and watching films online.
“Developing technologies are changing our leisure,” Bp. Bolen said. He expressed concern that these technologies can isolate people, with the result that they rarely engage “in heart-to-heart, face-to-face communication.”
A similar concern preoccupied Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica in an April 2012 speech at DePaul University in Chicago. Fr. Rosica heads the Salt and Light Catholic Television network based in Toronto, Ontario.
Nowadays people rush everywhere with wires in their ears, laden with smartphones, iPads and other communications devices, Fr. Rosica observed. He asked his listeners when they last “had a significant one-on-one conversation with another human being?”
Calling attention to “Jesus’ style of being present to others and communicating with them,” Fr. Rosica said the Lord never allowed “anything to distract him from the person in front of him.”
Gibson served on Catholic News Service’s editorial staff for 37 years.