I belong to a generation which, no matter how Catholic, subscribes by and large to the Protestant Work Ethic. The idea of leisure, of doing nothing, is abhorrent. Every moment must be filled! Those who’ve read my observations on St Benedict’s teaching that idleness is the enemy of the soul will be wondering where I’m taking this. The answer is that work and leisure are twin aspects of the same thing, the balanced life. Even leisure can be active, and I don’t mean filled with extreme sports or whatever. St Bernard, for example, describes prayer as otium negotissimum, very busy leisure. What I think he was drawing attention to is the fact that what happens on the outside can be very different from what is going on inside. That is certainly true of prayer, where God does everything though we have the impertinence to assume that we are doing the praying. But it is also true of the little periods of leisure that come into our lives, like Bank Holiday week-ends. They don’t happen in monasteries, where the liturgical calendar sets the pace, but for the rest of us they mark a change of gear, a little lessening of the pressures of everyday. Let’s treasure them because some of our most creative moments come when we are not actually doing anything in particular. However busy you must be this week-end, for meals don’t cook themselves and tasks that have been on the to-do list for months eventually have to be addressed, do try to find a minute or two when you do nothing and don’t feel guilty about it. God rested on the seventh day and so should we.
To some, it is an invention of the devil, forcing families to endure three days of close proximity; to others, it is a boon, allowing more time for hobbies and pastimes normally crammed into a few short hours; few now remember how the bank holiday originated, or how recent is the idea of relaxation and leisure in our Post-Industrial-Revolution world. It is something our medieval forebears understood much better. The original holiday was a holy day and appeared at different times throughout the year, tracing not only a secular rhythm but a spiritual one as well. The holy day was a holiday because it meant laying aside the usual preoccupations and tasks and revelling in the goodness of God. It is worth remembering that on the feast of St Bank. Maybe Monday should not be spent on household chores or finishing the redecoration of the back bedroom but doing something that will expand mind and spirit. Even doing nothing has much to commend it. For it seems to be only when we cease our noisy chatter and our endless doing that God can begin to get a word in edgeways.
Note for the bored: this is the 900th post on iBenedictines and was written to the sound of the cuckoo calling from beside the Worm Brook.