A Summer of Leisure

As the days grow hotter and summer begins, we begin to dream of long days spent soaking up the sun on the beach, of family gathered around a campfire telling stories, or summer nights spent gazing up at stars. Summer is a time of leisure, or at least there is always some part of us that wishes it to be so. But leisure is so much more than a pleasant way to unwind. We live in a time saturated with the spirit of work, utility, and efficiency, where the worth of the human person often rests on and is measured by what one can do or achieve. But leisure, in the words of Joseph Pieper, “fosters a capacity to perceive the reality of the world… to be in touch with one’s true self, the self understood as a created and redeemed being within a world that has meaning.” We have found this to be so true in our encounters at the Visitation Mission.

This past fall, I met with a young woman in her twenties. Amy had accidentally walked into a crisis pregnancy center rather than the clinic across the street where she was scheduled for an abortion. Now she was sitting down with us to explore her options. Her situation was difficult. She already had a four-year-old son and the father of the baby wanted nothing to do with her or the pregnancy. Her mother had told her that the only option was abortion and Amy was starting to believe the same. We listened to her talk about her fears and the pressure she felt from everyone around her. She talked about how difficult it was to think clearly about her situation in the chaos of her home life. We pitched an idea to her we thought might help clear her mind, and invited her and her son to go to upstate the next day for a little leisurely outing with the Sisters.

So the next day, five sisters, Amy, and her son Joseph all crowded into a minivan and drove out of the Bronx Projects into the beautiful Sunday morning sun, brilliant fall leaves, and rolling hills of Dutchess County. We went to Mass, had a big brunch with a beautiful family of Co-workers, went apple picking, wandered around on wooded trails, fed horses, and simply delighted in the day.

The next day I got a call. It was Amy. After thanking me for the day she simply said, “my mom has something to say to you.” Recalling that her mom had been the biggest source of pressure for an abortion, I prepared myself for an earful. But before long I heard a voice full of gratitude and sincerity tell me: “Sister I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being there for my daughter. I really thought abortion was the only way – I have nothing to give her, I have no way to support her, but now I know we can make this work. God is going to be there for her…for us.” I was shocked. What was at the heart of this change?

I discovered that when they got home from our little leisure day Joseph couldn’t go to sleep without recounting to his grandmother all the things he had done that day. And as he did so with sheer delight, she was drawn into a new world. Through Joseph’s day of leisure, his grandmother’s own innocence was restored – the cloud of fear and despair she had about the situation lifted. Her heart found new space to trust in Providence, in the good, and in the possibilities born of hope. This is the power of leisure- one day of leisure helped save a life.

Cultivating an attitude of leisure allows us to approach everything with a spirit of reverence. We let go of our tendencies to take possession, to dominate, to just run over life trying to get to the next thing. Rather, we carve out and keep within our hearts, minds, and souls a space to receive the someone or something before us, a space that allows it to unfold and be discovered. Essentially, leisure isn’t about doing anything, it’s about being. And yet, it isn’t just “time off.” It’s “time-in” to the deeper realities around us. We step back from practical work and just seek to do something for its own sake – not to measure ourselves, to achieve results, or to perform.

Joseph Pieper says, “Leisure has been and always will be the first foundation of any culture.” This is eminently true about the Culture of Life. If we wish to build it, we will have to labor, but it is precisely leisure that will give us vision, a sense of the true human vocation, and of the sacred dignity of the human person.

Lord, we ask that you would grant us the time for leisure this summer. May our hearts be opened to receive the reality around us as we cultivate activities done for their own sake. Blessed Mother, give us your heart of reverence towards all God’s creation. May we place ourselves in the attitude of heart which will to draw our brothers and sisters, our culture, into life.