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Friday, 24 July 2015

Discover & explore: Leisure

The recent announcement in the Budget of plans to allow larger stores to open for longer on Sundays by giving local authorities powers to relax national law on Sunday trading has reignited debate about the place of rest in what has become a 24-7 society.

Witold Rybczynski suggests, in his book Waiting for the Weekend, that there is conceptual confusion in our society about what leisure is. ‘Leisure,’ he suggests, is the most misunderstood word in our vocabulary. Kathleen Norris has said that we are ‘free,’ it seems, to have anything but a nurturing leisure. We know this because ‘I have so little time,’ is our frequently heard lament.

Paul Heintzman, in his book on Leisure and Spirituality, has described how: ‘In preindustrial societies, time was viewed cyclically; that is, time was rooted in the rhythms of the natural world. People’s lives revolved around sunrise and sunset, the change of seasons, and the planting and harvesting of crops. They were unlikely to separate work and leisure within their daily life, and the demands of work were often lightened by songs and storytelling … As a result, notions of work and leisure blended together.

The Industrial Revolution (1760–1830), however, changed everything … Work was situated in space at the factory and structured in time as the worker had to be at the work place at a certain time to perform work duties. Facilitated by the development of clocks, work could be assigned to specific times, and work time could be measured precisely. Time began to be viewed mechanically, and this linear notion of time began to influence and change people’s understanding of leisure. Time away from work was free of the often unpleasant demands of the workspace, so it was called “free time.”’

The Guildhall Art Gallery’s Guide to its Collection adds to this picture that ‘Prior to the nineteenth century, the concept of leisure had been reserved for the aristocracy.’ The Victorian period ‘saw an unprecedented upsurge in leisure pursuits among all classes of society. This ‘Leisure Revolution’ was possible due to the increased availability of some disposable income and free time.’ Paintings in the Guildhall Art Gallery depict some of these newly accessible activities such as pubs, music hall, public parks, sports clubs, museums, day trip to the seaside and boating plus country walking expeditions.

Giles Fraser, in a piece responding to the Budget announcement, argues that these developments have resulted in shopping having now become our leisure experience par excellence and, more than that, our religion. In counteracting that development he suggests going back to Biblical understandings of rest. Paul Heintzman agrees and quotes a textbook of leisure education which notes that ‘the church has many thousands of years’ experience in helping people from all social strata find life and find it more abundantly.’

Our reading from Hebrews states that ‘a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labours as God did from his.’ While Psalm 23 promises the restoration our soul in green pastures and beside still waters leading to our dwelling in the house of the Lord our whole life long. The principle of Sabbath rest is reflective of the Old Testament idea of a rhythm to life which supports a view of leisure as non-work time or activity that refreshes and restores, while the concept of rest as being reflective of the quality of life offered in Jesus Christ provides support for the view of leisure as a state-of-being. Josef Pieper, a twentieth-century Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher has defined leisure as “a mental and spiritual attitude . . . a condition of the soul . . . a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude” in his book Leisure: The Basis of Culture.

However, we also need to consider Biblical understandings of rest in relation to society and not just as individuals. Giles Fraser explains that in the Bible ‘the seventh day of the week corresponded to the seventh day of creation, when God rested – and from this derives: 1) rest on the seventh day; 2) rest for the land on the seventh year …; and 3) the forgiveness of all debts – the jubilee – on the seventh times seventh year.’ This last is the big one, he writes, ‘the so-called “year of the Lord’s favour”. It’s what the Jubilee Debt Campaign referred back to when it called for the eradication of developing-world debt. It’s also what Jesus refers to in his very first sermon: “I come to bring good news to the poor, freedom to the captive … and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

‘The jubilee is not debt-restructuring. It’s out-and-out, full-on debt forgiveness.’ Jesus appropriates this concept to himself and his ministry, saying that it is fulfilled through his life, ministry, death and resurrection. He gives us a vision of a world in which the forgiveness and rest which he makes available extends across the whole of human society. This is the Sabbath rest which is still to come and connects to the Isaiah vision of a future society that we explored in relation to the theme of Home.

In the meantime, Leland Ryken has helpfully written in Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure, that ‘All leisure . . . is a gift from God that, when used wisely, “provides rest, relaxation, enjoyment, and physical and psychic health. It allows people to recover the distinctly human values, to build relationships, to strengthen family ties, and to put themselves in touch with the world and nature. Leisure can lead to wholeness, gratitude, self-expression, self-fulfilment, creativity, personal growth, and a sense of achievement. So leisure should be valued and not despised.’


W.H. Davies - Leisure.

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