The One About Leisure | March 12, 2021

Weekend Digest 2021:07
12 March 2021
St. Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome (604)

Happy Friday, St. B’s —

Ok, I’ll admit it.

There are some things I’ll actually miss about the pandemic lockdown.

Wait — that’s not exactly the right way to say what I mean. I should say the lockdown did create some new horizons of possibility in the world, did make possible some things that weren’t before, did produce some good results in a way. Like how Leigh Stein wrote in the New York Times: “I have hardly prayed to God since I was a teenager, but the pandemic has cracked open inside me a profound yearning for reverence, humility and awe.” That’s a good craving. Puzzles are back, strong. And board games. That’s good. Our pets all seem happier. Good. We have a deeper appreciation of how important health care workers and restaurant workers are. Also good! And for me personally, some habits of home and heart developed during the pandemic that I hope have set deep enough in my muscle memory to survive the inevitable return of the normal.

For instance — the front porch.

Renee and the kids and I love #RectoryLife, and I’ve often thought how much freer lockdown has been for us in Nashville (where we have a yard, pool, softball field, jogging track, basketball court) than it would’ve been for our family in Boston (where we had none of those things — our yard was basically Boston Common). But one thing that really got activated for us last March was the porch. Most days last spring, R and I would work outside (I know, I can’t believe I did that voluntarily, either), then when the sun was over the yardarm, we’d head porch-ward with cold drinks and our Celtic Prayer Book. Thus was born a habit we’d been struggling to form over two decades of marriage — regular prayer together. Now I look forward almost every day to that time together when the sun goes down, to our simple rhythm of prayer, and now that the temps are rising, I look forward to our porch.

Fr. Sammy and Renee on the Rectory porch

This piece from Front Porch Republic trumpets a front-porch “renaissance” brought on by the coronavirus. 

The front porch has been a locus of American culture precisely because of the way it forms our “attitude of mind” and “condition of the soul.” The front porch is the place where we step out into “the whole of creation” and participate in the waltz of life: from plants to animals to humans, from the created to the social . . . .
The front porch is the pillar of our communal presence and a doorway into the joys of filial love and comfort. It is on the front porch that we meet and greet our friends and family and become acquainted with new friends and neighbors. The front porch gives shape to the love and happiness that comes with such a life. Flowers adorn the front porch and turn it into a mini-Eden, inviting, welcoming, and serene. The bird feeder invites nature to our window, to become part of our life instead of distant from it. Yes, the front porch offers a microcosm of “the whole of creation” and our place in it.

While I increasingly question the very idea of an “American Dream” that the article assumes, and I say a hearty tsk to the author for calling Bauhaus architecture “repellent and repulsive” (I happen to love it — although I wouldn’t necessarily want to live or worship in it), something about that piece resonates. In the pandemic, the porch became for us a place of reflection. A place of prayer. A place of leisure.

That’s where the “attitude of mind” and “condition of the soul” lines come from — fromLeisure, the Basis of Culture, a 1948 manifesto by Joseph Pieper, the German Catholic philosopher, and professor at universities in Berlin and Münster. The very meaning of the word “leisure” eludes us today. We know it has something to do with free time, but in a culture like ours — a culture of “total work” Pieper calls it — industry too often bleeds into leisure time (thence, I suppose, the leisure suit). We work hard, and we play hard, leaving little time for the leisure that’s foundational to culture. The Greeks understood the value of leisure. So did medieval Europeans. In fact, Pieper says we wouldn’t have religion without leisure — from time for contemplation on the nature of God. He counsels us to recover something of “leisure as ‘non-activity’ — an inner absence of preoccupation, a calm, an ability to let things go, to be quiet.” He touts the “serenity of ‘not-being-able-to-grasp,’ of the recognition of the mysterious character of the world.” And he says “leisure is the condition of considering things in a celebrating spirit — the inner joyfulness of the person who is celebrating belongs to the very core of what we mean by leisure.” (Read Maria Popova’s thoughts on Pieper).

Flannery and Fenway enjoy the swing on the Rectory’s porch.

I think the pandemic created just the slightest space in my life for the pressure of work to lift and for the light of leisure to creep in. And in the months since, I’ve been hungry for a deeper theological understanding of my longing for it, which led me to John Mark Comer’s The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. John Allen assigns it as required reading for his Nashville Fellows, and I recently shared portions of it with the church staff and the vestry. Comer is writing about Sabbath, but using the concept of “hurry” to do it — quoting Dallas Willard saying “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day.” Or Corrie Ten Boom saying “If the devil can’t make you sin, he’ll make you busy.” Or in his own words: “Hurry is a form of violence on the soul.” 

Sabbath is one tool to eliminate hurry from life, to re-order our priorities around our truest identity — we are hidden in Christ with God. It is not (I repeat, not) a “rest to store up energy” so we’re more productive on day Sabbath+1. It is much more than an afternoon off. It’s more mystical than that. Here’s how Lauren Winner describes it (quoting Nan Fink) in Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline:

Time as we know it does not exist for these twenty-four hours, and the worries of the week soon fall away. A feeling of joy appears. The smallest object, a leaf or a spoon, shimmers in a soft light, and the heart opens. Shabbat is a meditation of unbelievable beauty.

Or Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in my favorite of this genre of books, The Sabbath:

The seventh day is a mine where spirit’s precious metal can be found with which to construct the palace in time, a dimension in which the human is at home with the divine; a dimension in which man aspires to approach the likeness of the divine.

Some days lately, I’ve sensed a little of the old, pre-pandemic hurry sneaking back into my life. I want to say “You’re not welcome here!”, to banish hurry to outer darkness, but I’m not sure I’m strong enough for that. So I need the Sabbath. I need a palace in time. I need prayer and quiet and leisure. 

I need my front porch. 

Fr. Sammy’s front porch.

If you’re looking for distraction this weekend, here are a few bullets about what I’m consuming:

  • Two words: Ted. Lasso. My favorite new TV show in recent memory. It’s not for everybody — it ain’t necessarily G-rated family-friendly entertainment. And you have to have Apple TV+ to watch it, I think. But Ted Lasso has brought so much joy to our house! Jason Sudeikis, who created and stars in the show, is Ted Lasso, a character described as “almost too kind to be believed.” He’s an American football coach at Division-II Wichita State (a school from Sudeikis’ IRL home state of Kansas, but whose football program has actually been defunct since 1986), and he’s hired, for nefarious reasons (no spoilers), to coach the other kind of football team — the English Premier League kind. Sudeikis won a best actor Golden Globe playing the titular character, a coach who cares more about his players’ joy and growth than he does wins and losses. Calling it “the most unwittingly Christian program on air today,” the National Catholic Reporter says its brilliance is that “overarching lessons are shown rather than told, lived rather than preached, and often lighthearted and humorous rather than stuffy, dry, condemnatory or moralizing . . . . It invites viewers to imagine another way of being in the world, another set of values to prioritize, another approach to decision-making and relationship-building.” What’s that sound like to you? Sounds like a parable to me! You come to the show for the funny, but you stay for some of the best depictions of selflessness, forgiveness, and “the upside-down kingdom of God” (from David French’s review of the show🙂 I’ve ever seen on TV. 
  • But maybe don’t rush off and watch it until Eastertide! Here’s a quick quote from one of the books I picked up this Lent: We have a “need, in Lent or at any other time, for the quest of solitude and silence; for the spiritual efficacy of doing nothing for Lent; of watching the snowdrops instead of the telly.” (From a sermon by Martin Thornton, in A Joyful Heart: Meditations for Lent, p. 15; you can read the whole sermon, “The Thomist Football League,” here.)
  • My typing music today is the minimalist piano of Goldmund, alias Keith Kenniff, the Berklee-trained force behind the ambient/electronic project Helios and one-half (alongside his wife, Hollie) of indie band Mint Julep. Can’t remember how I found him, but no modern music sounds more “Lent” to me than this — quiet, plaintive, hopeful, and most of all attentive, even to the sounds of the pedals lifting and falling and Kenniff’s fingers brushing the keys. And my favorite part is how absolutely unhurried it is — thus, its inclusion in this Digest about leisure. In this article, Kenniff says his music as Goldmund is “almost all improvised and I leave mistakes in without the compulsion to correct them,” which I’d say is a pretty good description of the aim of a grace-filled life. 
  • One last thing: I grew up the son of a pharmacist who owned one drugstore in a two-drugstore small town. My dad ran Moore Drug Company, and the competition up the street (every store was basically on the same street in my town) was called Rester’s. Turns out the son of that druggist became a really good friend of mine, and he’s now the pastor of the big United Methodist Church in Oxford, Mississippi, the building where Renee and I were actually married (our candles spilled on their carpet; we paid for new carpet; I don’t like to talk about it). Anyway — my friend, Eddie Rester, is killing it with a great new podcast called The Weight — for the “topics that are too heavy for a 20-minute sermon. There are issues that need conversation, not just explanation.” His most recent one considered “Healing the Imagination” with James K. A. Smith, and what a great conversation! Check it out if you have 45 minutes. And if you ever run into Pastor Eddie — tell him you would have been discerning enough to shop at Moore’s.

Thanks, as always, for reading. I’ve been ending these missives with quotations of late, so here’s one more for us — maybe it’s a little too on the nose: 

Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest.

Jesus of Nazareth

Consider that an invitation —

Fr. Sammy

Published by Fr. Sammy Wood

Interim Rector of St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church in Times Square

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