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    Leisure: The Basis of Culture {Chapter 5}

    October 20, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    I liked this last section of the first essay. In it, Pieper comes full circle, bringing us back to some of his original questions. He begins by asking whether the realm of leisure can be saved by an appeal to humanism, which is, he says, an appeal to a humanum. His conclusion, to those of us who Believe, is probably not all that surprising: No, it cannot.

    Man, isolated from God and religion, is not sufficient to rescue the realm of leisure.

    Then, he jumps to an idea that was perhaps hinted at before: The soul of leisure lies in celebration. I wish I had the time to track through all of his reasoning like I did in my last post, because I think that really helped me follow Pieper better. However, the reality is that I spent half of naptime baking apple bars with my older daughter, and I don’t regret anything other than that I don’t have the power to add an hour to my day.


    As far as where celebration comes into all of this, as far as I can tell, it is in the idea that the essence of leisure, or what it means to be at leisure, is antithetical to utility. As a disclaimer, I must say that I haven’t decided whether I agree with Pieper here or not, but come to think of it, I probably do as long as utility is very narrowly defined and probably connected to having monetary value.

    I loved that Pieper connected festival {or celebration, depending on your translator} to worship. He does this because he claims that, even though secular cultures will try to create silly days like Labor Day, a culture can’t have an authentic celebration without a religion to inspire it. My church has called our Sunday gathering “celebrations” at times, so I follow the connection naturally. With that said, I loved Pieper’s history lesson on temples. He explains that the root of the word temple, in both Latin as well as Greek, has the sense of meaning “cut off,” which refers to the fact that physically, a portion of land was cut off from all practical, economic use. This part of land was surrendered to the Lord.

    One translator then says:

    Divine worship means the same thing where time is concerned, as the Temple where space is concerned.

    Here is a time when I actually prefer how it is rendered by Malsbary:

    Worship is to time as the temple is to space.

    But let’s appeal to Dru for the explanation:

    [I]n divine worship, a definite space of time is set aside from working hours and days, a limited time, specially marked off–and like the space allotted to the temple, is not used, is withdrawn from all merely utilitarian ends. Every seventh day is a period of time of that kind: that is what a feast is, and such is its only origin and justification.

    So leisure is utterly and completely frivolous, in the best sense of the word.

    Was it John Hodges who pointed out that somewhere in the Alps there is probably a flower that bursts into beautiful bloom, and is never seen by human eyes? I think it was Hodges. His point was regarding how God has lavished beauty upon the world, and He does not do this pragmatically, as if it was only worth it if someone somewhere saw it and thanked Him for it. He delights in this sort of frivolity and excess, and it seems to me that this is the way in which we can follow Him into leisure without falling into self-indulgence.

    I am not a natural play-er. It is hard for me to relax and “celebrate.” I see from all of this that I have something to learn from God Himself.

    And also probably Chesterton.

    Read More:

    -More book club entries over at Cindy’s.
    -Online version of Leisure: the Basis of Culture

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  • Reply Mystie October 22, 2009 at 3:57 am

    Harvest festivals *can be* religious, if the motivation behind them is glorifying and thanking God for the bounty and provision.

    The conclusion I made as a child was that “harvest party” meant “a party to pacify the kids who aren’t allowed to go trick or treating.” 🙂

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts October 21, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    You know, I have both Orthodoxy as well as The Everlasting Man right here on my shelf. I’d be willing to pick them up if you want to read them.

    Of course, we really should finish The Baptized Body first. 😉

    Now on to the interesting question: Do harvest festivals count, in Pieper’s world, as celebrations? (Or should we call them festiments? Ha.) I don’t know if he would count them, but certainly these are not invented socialist breaks from labor, but rather enjoying the fruit of our labor and good weather before winter…They are a natural things to have, though I suppose they aren’t religious in focus. Hmmm…

    Rachel, I think you are right that we have an innate need to celebrate something. I think that the world also provides us with things worth celebrating (everything from Sundays to the aforementioned harvest). One of our goals for the next couple of years is to “go deeper” in regard to our celebrations of the various holidays, mainly by reinstating forgotten but worthy traditions…

  • Reply Rachel R. October 21, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    I think that Pieper is probably right.

    I have been pondering Halloween lately. It baffles me that people – even unbelievers – enjoy putting up such extensive, UGLY decorations in their homes and yards. I mean, all religious beliefs aside, who wants to have to look at something ugly for a month? But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve decided that it must have something to do with an innate need to celebrate something. So – give someone an opportunity to celebrate even the dead, and people will. (Obviously, I think there are better things to celebrate, but that’s not really the point here.)

  • Reply Dominion Family October 21, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    This is the time of year for festivals. Alex calls them festiments. Aren’t there an awful lot of festivals surrounding apples?
    I thought about that during my reading because I am trying to decide if harvest festivals such as we see in various towns are religious or not by Pieper’s definition.

  • Reply Mystie October 21, 2009 at 4:16 am

    So should we read Chesterton together next? 🙂 I have read sections, but never a whole piece.

  • Reply Dana October 20, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    Hmmm, baking apple bars. That sounds celebratory and festal!

    Overall, this last chapter was so encouraging to me. It’s the sort of information that fuels me for many miles.

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