September 24, 2018


We Weren't Made for Endless Work: To be fully human, we need to put down our phones for a while. (GRACY OLMSTEAD, September 24, 2018, American Conservative)

It is important, I think, that our attempts at intentionality do not just involve setting our smartphones or computers aside and "accomplishing" things in real time. Often, when we aren't staring at screens, we are engaging in some form of busywork. We spend non-distracted moments in a frenzy of activity: doing dishes, folding laundry, paying bills, et cetera. And while all these things are engaging and important, they should not and do not contain the whole of contemplation.

Josef Pieper suggested that our fixation on busyness stems from modern man's suspicion of grace: "man seems to mistrust everything that is effortless; he can only enjoy, with a good conscience, what he has acquired with toil and trouble; he refuses to have anything as a gift."

Leisure, in contrast, "is only possible when a man is at one with himself, when he acquiesces in his own being...[leisure] implies (in the first place) an attitude of non-activity, of inward calm, of silence; it means not being 'busy,' but letting things happen." [...]

It is easy to slip into distractedness and inattentiveness if we are not cultivating daily rhythms that emphasize the present and the real over the possible and the virtual. That's why Sherry Turkle suggests that we carve out "sacred spaces" in our day in which we set aside our devices and seek to truly focus on each other. The dinner table is a good space for this--but I also feel that I could do a better job abandoning my devices for intentional daily spurts of play with my daughter. Otherwise, leisure is too quickly interrupted by a text or email or phone call.

We don't always like to hear that rest and "play" can nourish our souls. Owning up to that truth would require slowing down and doing "unimportant" things with no material, measurable benefit. It would require acknowledging our need for grace, and our own inability to accept the world as gift. But our existence was never meant to fixate around work--at least not if the ancients are to be believed. Leisure makes us human.

So go on a walk tomorrow and search for "tiny perfect things." Play a board game after the dinner dishes are put away. Read a favorite book aloud. Pull out the sidewalk chalk.

Whatever you do, rest and delight in the present--knowing that work and emails and social media and news (or whatever else absorbs your brain) can wait.

Posted by at September 24, 2018 4:30 AM