Responding to the question, “Do we need to rediscover the meaning of leisure?” Pope Francis replies: “Together with a culture of work, there must be a culture of leisure as gratification. To put it another way: people who work must take the time to relax, to be with their families, to enjoy themselves, read, listen to music, play a sport. But this is being destroyed, in large part, by the elimination of the Sabbath rest day. More and more people work on Sundays as a consequence of the competitiveness imposed by a consumer society.” In such cases, he concludes, “work ends up dehumanizing people.”
The American psychiatrist Conrad Baars also emphasized the need to be affective, rather than effective, which falls in line with the leisure that Pope Francis calls for. One cannot be moved by the beauty, joy and goodness that surrounds us if we are constantly busy, constantly on the move. The article then goes on to say:
Some pages later, he derides people who think of themselves as Catholic but don’t make time for their children. This is an example, according to Pope Francis, of living “with fraud.”
Conrad Baars and his colleague Anna Terruwe worked with many clients diagnosed with emotional deprivation disorder. For many of them, they lacked the unconditional love of parents, and thus had disordered emotional lives. Their parents did not take time to be with them, or if they did spend time with them, it was only with a willed emotional rapport, not a spontaneous expression of joy and happiness at being with their child. So Baars and Terruwe saw the effect of this "fraud" in their clients who grew up with parents who did not take time to be with them.
This leads me to another thought. Lately I have been thinking of Conrad Baars' emphasis on leisure and affectivity over effectivity and comparing that with the proverbial wife from Proverbs 31 in the Bible. Many Protestants and Orthodox Jews love this passage, and even a few Catholic women as well. At first glance, the proverbial wife seems pretty admirable. She is up late at night baking bread, she prepares food at odd hours when everyone is asleep, she makes things with her own hands, is quite creative, generous and a good investor. Her husband is honored. She has a long list of accomplishments, abilities, and amazing strength and energy. She laughs at the days to come.
However, let's face it, it would take a lot of supernatural grace to be able to do everything that she does on a daily or even weekly basis. She did have servants, and I am sure that helped. But given her sleep schedule (or lack thereof), I think the average women could not accomplish all the things that the proverbial wife is known for. Baking bread takes time to roll it out, knead it and then let it rise. Weaving is also a beautiful craft that is very time-consuming, and requires that one not be in a hurry. She also sews the fabric that she weaves into beautiful blankets, sashes, and clothes for all the people in her household. Any one who sews by hand knows how much time it takes to make beautiful clothes. She even has extra to sell to the merchants who come by. Even if she had servants to help with all the other duties of running a household such as food preparation, cleaning, child care, etc, she would still be one very busy woman.
As I was pondering the example of the proverbial wife, a second story came to mind, the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10. Martha has invited Jesus over and is distracted by all the household preparations. She complains to Jesus about Mary sitting at his feet and listening to him. Then Martha tells Jesus to tell Mary to help out. Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better part. Jesus seems to really understand Martha well and tells her that she worries about many things, but none of them are really necessary.
These two stories have very different images of leisure and work. The proverbial wife is strong, cheerful, and always working. We do not hear about her resting, although her husband is given a seat of honor among the elders at the city gates. Martha is like the proverbial wife, hard at work. Only this time, she is not cheerful, nor is she strong enough to do everything she wants to accomplish. She needs help and she expects it from her sister Mary. Mary has left the work behind to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his words. She is the perfect model of a person at leisure.
I think there is much to ponder between these two stories, especially in modern, Western culture, which has indeed forgotten the Sabbath. We do struggle with wanting to do many things that maybe are not so important. We want to do, but strongly crave time to just be. Like Mary, we want to leave all the cares of the world behind and listen to Jesus, but like Martha, we have many distractions, both societal and personal that call us back and keep us from listening to God.