Leisure, Celebration, Sabbath

Philosopher Josef Pieper predicted a leisure crisis amid the compulsive work ethic of post—World War II capitalism. 

Overwhelm, frustration, stress…burnout. Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile from Pexels

In his classic work, Leisure the Basis of Culture, Pieper critiques what we now refer to as addictive work and decries our lack of a festive attitude which demands non-activity or leisure. 

He teaches that the soul of leisure “lies in celebration.”  He believes that active leisure is more to be valued than all other functions. 

[Its] basis is divine worship.  The meaning of celebration, we have said, is the [human] affirmation of the universe and [our] experiencing the world in an aspect other than its every day one.

Our spiritual tradition has another word for leisure, namely Shabbat or Sabbath, a day of rest.  In considering more closely the meaning of this tradition, we recover a rich basis for reflecting on the work of ritual and celebration in a postmodern era.   What does Sabbath mean? 

Returning to the Garden: “Song of Solomon“ No. 10, a 1923 work of the German artist Egon Tschirch. Wikimedia.

Shabbat in its origins meant a kind of redemption of the Garden of Eden, a celebration of the garden one finds in the Song of Songs.  Included is a command to make love on that day—and to awaken to the cosmos and to the original blessings in our lives.  Add the Easter garden story from Christianity, and there too Shabbat is celebrated as a day of delight and remembrance. 

The primary reason we are driven to thanks, according to Thomas Aquinas, is creation itself.  He writes, “The sanctification of the Sabbath [is] in memory of the creation of all things.”  So it is nothing less than “the creation of all things” that urges us to praise and thanks.  For Aquinas, creation is “the first and foremost of all the divine gifts” that we commemorate at the Sabbath.

Rabbi Heschel reminds us that the first time the word qadosh or holy is used in the Bible is in chapter one of Genesis at the end of the story of creation: “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.”  Creation is holy, and therefore time is holy; and the holiest of all times is the seventh day of creation, the Shabbat. Thus,

“Lecha Dodi” – the traditional song sung on Friday night to welcome Shabbat as a bride and queeen – sung by the Moroccan Dror Sinai group at Temple Beth El, Aptos, CA

…the meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space.  Six days a week we work under the tyranny of things and space; on the Sabbath we try to be attuned to holiness in time.

Sabbath represents that one-seventh of our lives in which we let go of labor and toil and come to realize that “the world has already been created and will survive without the help of [humanity].”

Sabbath is an attitude of letting go of work in order to reexperience the holiness of existence, including our ability to work and co-create.  “There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to subdue but to be in accord.”  That is why we can say that weekdays “are for the sake of Sabbath” which is “not an interlude but the climax of living.”

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Reinvention of Work, pp. 269-271.

Banner Image: A toast in celebration. Photo by Scott Warman on Unsplash

Do you agree with Pieper that festivity is often missing in today’s world?  What ways of savoring the “holiness of existence” and “Sabbath” do you engage in or will you engage in when, hopefully, we move beyond the isolation of a covid time?

Natural Grace: Dialogues on Creation, Darkness, and the Soul in Spirituality and Science 
by Matthew Fox and Rupert Sheldrake

Natural Grace, a 208 page inspired dialogue between theologian Matthew Fox and scientist Rupert Sheldrake, unites wisdom and knowledge from unconventional angles. Considering themselves heretics in their own fields, Matthew and Rupert engage the conversation from postmodern and post-postmodern perspectives, deconstructing both religion and science—while setting the foundation for a new emerging worldview. Having outgrown the paradigms in which they were raised, both Fox and Sheldrake see it as part of their life missions to share the natural synthesis of spirituality and science rooted in a paradigm of evolutionary cosmology.

Upcoming Events

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3 thoughts on “Leisure, Celebration, Sabbath”

  1. Avatar

    …the meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we work under the tyranny of things and space; on the Sabbath we try to be attuned to holiness in time.
    Psychology studies indicate one of the biggest sources of stress is our relationship to TIME!
    What a refreshing reframing of that relationship.
    Thank you Matthew!

  2. Carol Kilby

    I did my Dr. of Ministry thesis at UCS on your book, Reinvention of Work. It was timely in the 80’s, 90’s and is even more so now! I did my UCS thesis on the book: Work Like You Don’t Need The Money, Making A Path Between Creation Spirituality and our Lifework.
    In this complex planetary crisis, however, being, let alone being festive feels a great spiritual challenge. As always, the spiritual path is a powerful paradox.

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