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Monday, May 18, 2015

"Leisure and Spirituality" (Paul Heintzman)

TITLE: Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Perspectives (Engaging Culture)
AUTHOR: Paul Heintzman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (352 pages).

Feeling guilty about relaxing? Restless when one is not working? What is the Christian viewpoint of work, leisure, rest, and spirituality? What does it mean to spend quality time in both work and play? What does the Bible say about leisure? In a systematic approach to the topic, Paul Heintzman expands upon his master's thesis entitled, "A Christian Perspective on the Philosophy of Leisure" which culminated with his PhD thesis: "Leisure and Spiritual Well-Being: A Social Scientific Exploration." Now Heintzman works at the University of Ottawa as Associate Professor of Leisure Studies. How appropriate. Noticing a lack of literature and studies on the philosophy of leisure, Heintzman is also concerned about the problems with current leisure practices. At the same time, leisure activities seem to be occupying a bigger space in society. As Christians, how are we to avoid making leisure an idol; it becoming hedonism; and the problem of utilitarianism. How can our faith instruct our practice and thought about leisure? Compared to the huge quantity of material on work, progress, exercises, and activism, resources on leisure seem so little.

The key thesis of this book is that leisure is good and should be valued. As tabled in the World Leisure Organization's Hangzhou convention in 2006, there are wide-ranging benefits about how good social health can bring about benefits for family, youth, well-being, economy, and even the environment. Heintzman extends this further with this exploration of leisure beyond these toward the spiritual dimension. Leisure creates opportunities for one to be with God and to cultivate relationships with people. However, there are many issues with regards to existing climate and philosophies of leisure. There is a danger of "fun morality" that threatens to turn leisure activities into idols of pleasure or gods of play. What drives these desire for pleasure and leisure? Readers will come across seven concepts of leisure.
  1. Classical leisure as a state of being
  2. Leisure as Activity
  3. Leisure as Free Time
  4. Leisure as Symbol of Social Class
  5. Leisure as State of Mind
  6. Leisure as Enjoyment
  7. Leisure as Holistic
He then discusses contemporary leisure trends by pointing out issues pertaining to the above seven concepts. There is a trend toward falling wages and longer working hours. With shorter vacation time, this also means lesser leisure activities. There is also an unhealthy consumeristic tendency in leisure activities which creates a different problem altogether: Commercialization. On top of that, consumerism may spur things like "hedonism, egotism, personal ownership, acquisitiveness, possessiveness, the craving for more than one’s fair share" of the resources of this earth. Other issues include exploitation and a rise in poor social justice. Other problems include the couch-potato syndrome and how current attitudes to leisure avoids the more important existential questions of life. For some of us, leisure may be a result of things done to address the state of boredom. Even the use of television is more of an escape and consumption inspired commercials rather than true rest and relaxation. There is even a comparison of how men and women treat leisure.

We learn too of the historical concept of leisure. In the days of the Greeks, leisure has more to do with education and learning. Compared to our modern times where work is venerated, leisure then was the highest activity. The distinction then was leisure and non-leisure rather than our modern dichotomy of work/non-work. This is because the entire Greek lifestyle was centered around leisure. For Aristotle, leisure (in the form of freedom from necessity of work and being unbusy) is the chief goal. It is also about peace. When Roman culture becomes more predominant, leisure gradually moves from leisure as non-work to leisure being more entertainment and pleasure. With the monastic movement, work becomes more respected and honoured, leisure has to do with some form of honouring that virtue of work. The distinction of leisure and work becomes more of incorporating contemplative and active patterns of daily life. The Renaissance moves away from contemplative stuff toward something more active and practical. With the Reformation, theology generates a greater awareness of work being used as an act of worship. This resulted in the commonly held "Protestant Ethic" that has come to shape modern perspectives on work. The Puritans add to this by using all elements of time, both work time and play time as completely under God. The modern era is staunchly devoted to work and sees leisure as a nice-to-have add on. Biblically, the Sabbath helps shed light on what leisure means. It is connected to justice in which it recognizes one's state of being, how we all are created into a pattern of living. There is a time for everything and the Sabbath is an opportunity for us to practice God's original creation plan. The three things the Sabbath has taught us are:

1) We are all socially equal
2) We need to observe a life rhythm
3) We need to see both quantitative and qualitative aspect of life

Heintzman gives "rest" a whole chapter on its own even though rest and Sabbath are closely related. This is because rest does not mean non-activity. It means four things: 1) Psychological-Spiritual (personal peace); 2) Soteriological (salvation rest); 3) Martial (rest from enemies); 4) Relating to Death. Other aspects of leisure include the biblical descriptions of "festivals, feasts, dance, hospitality, friendships, and leisure practices." Other chapters shine light on leisure by contrasting it with work, with ethics as well as spiritual well-being. Readers will come face to face with probing questions about what work and leisure means for us personally. Questions like:
  • Does my work or non-work define my daily life?
  • How does the way we deploy leisure define us?
  • What about our own identity?
  • What does it mean to integrate leisure and non-leisure?
  • How does a good rhythm looks like?
  • What is a "balanced" life?
After some heavy critiques on the classical and contemporary notions of leisure, Heintzman proposes some of his ideas about what biblical leisure means. It means learning the Golden Rule to do to others what we want others to do to us. It means using leisure as a way of self-love that we too learn to love others. It is learning to rest and relax in God's creation, not to dehumanize people through our pursuits of leisure but to see opportunities to expand God's love for us and neighbour. It is also to incorporate healthy rhythms; making space for a balanced set of activities; being open to celebration and gratitude; solitude; being away; connecting with others; and learning about how leisure plays a role in spiritual growth. There are various models proposed in the book. The "Leisure-Spiritual Coping Model" is used for personal spiritual appraisals to take stock of oneself. The "Leisure and Spiritual Well-Being Model" gives us a continuum of how our activities lead to a better spiritual well-being.  

A book of this nature requires quite a bit of working through. There is a good historical coverage of the different perspectives of leisure. This helps readers understand how our modern concepts of leisure come from. At the same time, we learn about how the religious components and understanding of rest and leisure have impacted our contemporary use of leisure. After reading this book, there is a sense of "everything is leisure" feeling. On the one hand, a book of this nature will invariably focus or drum up the significance of leisure. On the other hand, leisure is but one part of life. What about people who find work as a way in which they feel most comfortable and relaxed? This is especially so for people who operates at a level in which their identities and jobs are welded. Having said that, this book is important for at least three groups of people. The first is the workaholics. Recognizing that the pace of life has not let up and the multitasking expectations are increasingly the norm rather than the exception, it will be hard to stay away from work. With mobile communications and the pervasive digital devices available where we are, work is always a cellphone or WiFi signal away. Having a healthy does of what leisure means will prevent workaholics from working themselves to the point of boredom or death. The second group are the retired or those who are retiring. Very often, there are people who work all their lives that they do not know what to do with all of their free time. People need to prepare for retirement at least ten years before they actually do retire. While leisure is not the same as retirement, it is definitely more talked about once an individual's work commitments get reduced over the years. The third group would be those who are still in the process of understanding what leisure is to them personally. For some it could very well mean taking a holiday or going shopping. For others, it can mean a spiritual retreat or some form of activity that is a break from daily work. What is needed is a holistic view of leisure that is honourable to God, respectful of others, and true to ourselves. This book gives us many ideas and tips not just on leisure or the philosophy of leisure, but how it relates to so many other aspects of daily living. It can be used for courses like the theology of work, faith in the marketplace, a balanced life, or general Christian Living courses.

I highly recommend this book for your reading.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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