During my years as a tech worker in Silicon Valley, general introductions usually included questions such as, “where do you work?” or, “what do you do for a living?” I preferred asking, “what do you do in your free time?” or, “what are your hobbies?” Talking to someone about their hobbies and leisure activities gave me a better insight into the individual’s life and personality.
We engage in hobbies for their own sake without utilitarian objectives. While hobbies can be limited by things such as financial means, ability, or location, what we do with our free time often expresses the fullness of our human freedom.
During the height of the pandemic, I, like many of us, found myself with more free time. Hanging out with friends, traveling to places, and dining out, while all good things, seemed to have cluttered my life. I relish my new simplified life, and I want to hold on to it as we emerge from the pandemic. I want a kind of leisure in my life that allows me to be at ease with myself and to contemplate the world around me.
Our contemporary culture seems to suggest that free time should be spent in mindless entertainment or in rest for the purpose of being more productive later. However, I propose that we look at our leisure activities through the lens of the Principle and Foundation from the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. According to Saint Ignatius, “God created human beings to praise, reverence, and serve God, and by doing this, to save their souls.” If we are to praise God at all times, how are we praising God in our leisure?
In his book Leisure, The Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper writes, “Leisure is a mental and spiritual attitude. It is a receptive attitude of the mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation. Leisure is an attitude of contemplative celebration of the reality of creation.” Thus, we can think of leisure as a spiritual activity that is directed towards God. Furthermore, proper leisure does not merely consist of free time but should also include the practice of contemplative celebration of creation, and by extension, praise of the Creator. Leisure, when seen through Pieper’s lens, helps align our leisure with praising God.
Further on, Pieper ties leisure to the worship of God. He writes, “The vacancy left by the absence of worship is filled by the mere killing of time and by boredom, which is directly related to the inability to enjoy leisure; for one can only be bored if the spiritual power to be leisurely has been lost.” Ultimately, free time, on Peiper’s account, should be used to worship God.
God’s commandment to keep the Sabbath holy is an invitation not to merely waste time or simply relax before a busy week, but to set time apart for God, and for the contemplation of God’s creation. The absence of worship leaves us unsure about what to do with our free time leading to boredom and restlessness. As a result, our leisure activities are chosen based on their ability to kill boredom and to placate our restless spirit.
We often spend our free time watching TV shows, movies, Netflix, and sports. In fact, watching TV is by far the most common leisure activity in the US.
I do not think that video entertainment is inherently bad. Comic relief can be healthy during stressful times. A movie may provide commentary on cultural trends. A TV show may help us examine our presuppositions, or a sports game can be a conversation starter that builds a friendship. However, we need to ask ourselves if spending significant portions of our free time on video entertainment helps align our lives with the overarching goal of contemplating creation and praising God. When we ceaselessly consume entertainment, we do not pause to contemplate creation and its Creator. Getting in touch with our sense of awe and wonder requires us to step back from noisy entertainment.
There are many ways to lift our minds to God. Enjoying the beauty of nature can move us to praise God, the Creator. I am frequently awed by the intricacies of life when I stroll our neighborhood. Gardening or a walk in the park are the activities that Jesus engaged in when He walked this earth. And, the night sky’s beauty reminds me that despite the immensity of this universe, I have a special place in it because of God’s love for me.
Perhaps, we may indulge in a hobby that helps us connect with our creative tendencies. Cooking a meal can be a work of art, and trying a new recipe can be an experiment in science. In a limited way, we become co-creators with God through our creative works.
A spiritual conversation with a friend may move us to praise God’s goodness in our friendships. Our lives are a lot more interesting than we think. And when we share the spiritual graces with friends, the graces are multiplied.
As we continue to emerge from this pandemic, let us commit to praising God with our free time and leisure activities. Let us allow ourselves to be in awe and wonder at the beauty of God’s creation and the mysteries of our lives.