leisure

Work.

With Labor Day coming up, I thought this would be a good time to meditate on work- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Work in and of itself is good.  Consider these quotes by St. Pope John Paul II on work:

“Through all these surroundings, through my own experience of work, I boldly say that I learned the gospel anew.”

“Work is good for us. Through work we not only transform nature, adapting it to our needs, but we also achieve fulfillment as human beings and indeed in a sense become more human.”

“The Son of God became man and worked with human hands…. So we know, not only by reason alone but through revelation, that through their work people share in the Creator’s work.”

“The church is convinced that work is a fundamental dimension of human existence on earth…. The church considers it her duty to speak out on work…. It is her particular duty to form a spirituality of work which will help all people to come closer, through work, to God…. This Christian spirituality of work should be a heritage shared by all.”

But in the age of rampant workaholism and equally rampant arrested development, our approach to work can be troublesome.  We are living in a divided time.  We bemoan the same fault lines all the time- secularists vs. religious, leftists vs. right-wingers, millennials vs. just about everyone else.  But there might be a more devious debate raging that we don’t often notice:  the place of work in our lives.  Total work vs. the quietists.

A friend of mine recently drove to a small, middle-of-nowhere town in Nebraska to watch the eclipse.  As he waited for the big moment he was floored.  The farmers’ machinery was buzzing along as if it was a normal day.  Cars were bustling on the highway.  People were working everywhere.  Then the total eclipse came and there was silence for a full two minutes.  Then as soon as the sun peaked out a little bit the whir of engines began again.  He couldn’t believe that workers couldn’t pause even a full five minutes to appreciate the phenomenon.  This is a society of total work.

I heard another story about a wealthy man from China who endured weeks of torture for housing a secret Catholic parish in his house.  The authorities interrupted a mass going on in his house and he rushed the congregation and the priest out before they could get caught.  Throughout all that torture he never gave up the name of the priest.  The authorities let him go and he immigrated to America.  He lived the American dream, opened his own restaurant, and started to see it thrive a bit.  He put in long, hard hours. Understandably his daily mass attendance wavered, but incredibly a few years into his business venture he had completely lapsed in his practice of the faith.  The speaker telling this story came to this conclusion:  what torture could not drive out of a man the American culture did.  Torture could not cause this man to become an apostate, but our American work ethic did.  And we applaud stories like his all the time.  This is a society of total work.

But at the same time we all know people who are so offended at not receiving a promotion every couple of years or a raise every month or so.  They aren’t rewarded for just showing up and they take offense.  Instead of keeping their noses down, working harder, and earning their raises and promotions they go off to another job.  They don’t learn and improve, they escape, so they can better validate their own opinions of the injustice done to them.  They won’t confront their laziness. This is the society of quietism.

I remember buying my first iPhone my senior year of college and purchasing a 2 gig data plan.  The salesmen assured me that I would never need 2 full gigs.  That was crazy.  No one used their phone that much.  Three years later I saw a video with the statistic that the average American will spend four full calendar year's worth of time on their phone in a lifetime.  Four wasted years!  We all basically die four years early.  It takes time off of our lives, because that’s not life.  This is the society of quietism.

Total work- meaning calculated by hours work, sweat poured out, goals achieved, productivity goals made.  It is a frantic work from sun up to sundown until utterly exhausted, the workers collapse in a heap.  Their state is constantly activity and equally constant exhaustion.  Even, maybe especially, Christian workers are inundated with this philosophy, but it becomes even more assiduous with the illusion of the cross of Christ adorning it- the heresy of good works.  Activism pushes Christ off the throne of their hearts.  There’s a constant sense of anxiety in the worker's mind.  Am I working hard enough?  Should I be doing something else?  I should, what else should I be doing?  Who is working harder than me?  Who notices?  It goes on and on.

Quietism- a passive withdrawn attitude or policy toward the world or worldly affairs.  The quietists are content to sit on their phones, tune out from outward reality, and in the Christian sense, to think that this is living on a deep level.  They fly by life, expecting to somehow be absorbed into greatness without lifting a finger.  These are tourists, the people who believe if they read a mountaineer's blog that they are somehow mountaineers themselves or if they read up on leadership practices that they are somehow a great leader.  They’re not a people of sweat, but a people marked with deep anxiety that their lives may be wasting away because they haven’t achieved what they want with their lives.  

These two profiles of course aren’t the only ones in our society, but they are two dominating strains.  When they meet it is toxic.  Judgement, complaining, guilt-tripping, backbiting, societal pressures, etc. abound.  

I’m sure, if we’re honest with ourselves, we can all identify with thoughts, opinions, and feelings from both aisles.

Traveling Between the Lines

Travel. It’s trendy. To say you’re a traveler in modern culture is a pithy way to say you are a cultured, experienced, tolerant, interesting human being whose life is fun and exciting and whose thoughts are worth listening to.

And to a certain degree that is true. Travel does wonderful things for the soul. There are images and graphics all over the Internet with the quote from St. Augustine that “the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” But simply to have read something isn’t enough. As Catholics, we should strive to be excellent in everything that we do. It is not enough to read great books. In order to gain any wisdom, we must read them well, with attention and humility. It is the same with traveling. In order to gain wisdom and experience truth in our travels, we must travel well.

How do we do that? In many ways, we do the same things we do to read well. Here are four tips from an English major on traveling well.

1)   Step outside yourself.

We read books to gain something we do not already have. In order to do so we have to let our mind enter into situations we have not been in before, or follow characters who react differently to their surroundings than we do. It isn’t just about the characters we connect with, but also the ones we clash with. We have to wrap our minds around ideas that are not our own. We gain a greater understanding of human nature and all it’s nuances. In traveling, unfamiliar surroundings make it easy to feel like we are stepping outside of ourselves, because we are physically out of our comfort zones. This can create the illusion that we have actually stepped outside of ourselves. We must make a conscious effort to connect with our surroundings, even when they don’t immediately pull us in.

2)   Compare.

When you compare parallel ideas from different books they provide insight into each other. When we find things that are similar to home in a foreign place and then examine the nuances, we learn more not only about the place we are in, but the place we came from as well. In good travel, as well as reading well, our senses are heightened and we notice smaller details than we do in everyday life. When we compare these to something more familiar they open secrets about our daily life and ourselves that have been hiding right before our eyes.

3)   Read between the lines.

A good book is never just a story. The story is crafted to reveal certain truths about the world, but if we don’t pay attention to what is not obvious, we can easily miss them. As a Christian, travel should never be about escaping reality or collecting fun stories. God usually has something to teach us when we travel, but it’s up to us to be attentive to it. Be extra prayerful when you travel. This also involves being prepared. If you spend some time learning about the historical context of the places you go, your ability to read between the lines will be greatly heightened. Read a little bit of history before you go anywhere.

4)   Allow it to end.

Sometimes you don’t want a good book to end. You don’t want to leave the experience behind. But if you never close the back cover, you can’t process it in it’s completeness. The conclusion of a book can radically change the experience of the book as a whole. Travel has a designated end date for a reason. When it’s time to go home you are given a unique gift to contemplate the trip in it’s entirety, and to incorporate what you have learned into your daily life. Your day to day can be transformed when you return from a well-traveled trip, but if you try to make the experience last longer than it ought, you do a disservice to the trip and to your daily life.

Traveling is one of the greatest gifts we have been given. Embracing new people and places stretches our hearts and minds and brings growth we usually can hardly imagine. But simply changing our location isn’t enough to travel. We must read well every adventure in order for our travels to truly make us wiser.

Amusing Ourselves to Eternal Damnation

Man was created for greatness—for God Himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched.
— Spe Salve, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

I recently corrected my seven year old son for telling his younger sibling that, because he told a minor fib, he was going to Hell. The sum of my argument was that, if he wished his brother to choose the good, we motivate more by love than by fear. As I jotted down the title to this post, I wondered whether what I said was always true. For a child’s heart can be moved by love but the adult heart is often in such disrepair that it often requires a jolt of fear first.

Today, I see a culture of entertainment that prohibits us from hearing the call of love. By entertainment, I mean anything that amuses us and at the same time keeps our mind and heart fixed in its current state. If you break the word down, you will see what I mean: “-tain” comes from the word “to hold” (teneo) and the prefix “enter-” means “inside or among”. Entertainment, literally, holds you where you are at. On the college campus I inhabit, I see two forms of entertainment.

The first, a group effort prevalent especially among Greek life, requires an enormous amount of work but very little independent thought. By this I refer to the drinking and hook-up culture on campus. The young men I saw yesterday in front of me in the check-out line are a perfect example. They had spent half the afternoon trying to find cheap margarita glasses, but had to settle for plastic pitchers. What difference in the end? It was a positive improvement, in fact, if the point is to get drunk as quickly as possible. And so the sober hours are spent in indolent pursuit of oblivion. They oddly reminded me of the Danaid sisters from Greek myth who must spend an eternity hauling water in leaky buckets from the river Styx to a barrel some distance away. Night after night drowning in liquor and day after day avoiding the shock to find they are once again sober and dry.

The second, a solitary and more insidious set, are those entertained and addicted to Netflix and video games. The trouble here is that the sinfulness of these habits is less visible than the first group. And even then, the human tendency to rationalize a sin by saying that it harms no one is easily accomplished by it. To this I retort that there is nothing human about locking oneself in your bedroom and watching Netflix or playing Xbox till 2am. Man is a political animal. We are made for relationship. These habits are relationship killing. They remove us from humanity.

At this point I need to come in with a word from St. John Bosco:
“Relax, have fun, laugh, go hiking, do anything you like, as long as you do not sin.”

The fact is that entertainment lacks joy. All the activities St. John Bosco lists have two things in common: 1) they are joyful and 2) they take us out of ourselves (i.e. they are the opposite of entertainment). When we relax (here I picture myself sitting down with a beer with my spouse or one or two friends), we remove ourselves from the concerns of the moment and are present to the past or contemplate the future. A very human activity. When I go for a hike, I cannot be entertained because every moment something new sight, sound, or smell moves my mind.

The best distinction I can make then is that I would call those activities that take us out of our mindset as “leisure” as opposed to entertainment. And as Catholics I would say that our non-work time is meant for leisure, not entertainment. The “weekend”––with binging on booze or Netflix––is entertaining. Sunday––a Sunday of worship, of hiking with friends, of eating and drinking and talking with family around the table––is leisurely.

But we live in an entertaining culture, and there is a danger that our leisure can fade into entertainment. We see this in various abuses of liturgy, we see this in a desire to be seen rather than to see, we see this in how frequently a friend checks their phone in a conversation.


I return then to the quote from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI with which I started this reflection. We are called to greatness. That calling will draw us out of ourselves. Entertainment has nothing to do with greatness. Golden shackles are still shackles. If your heart does not ache with being stretched from its sin-shriveled smallness to the grandeur God is calling you to, then you are being entertained.

5 Books for Young Audiences that Adults Should Read Too

A children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story
— C.S. Lewis, On Three Ways of Writing for Children

You need a fun, thought-provoking read, and the finest literature in the English language is not the only place to find it. I mean nothing against the great writers and poets. I offer this list as way to relax while still meeting memorable characters whose struggles, successes, and defeats are mirrored in the lives of adults and children alike.

If the idea of “the finest literature in the English language” sounds like the last place you’d look for a way to spend time, take this list as a challenge. Finish a book. Read a book because it’s more rewarding than breezing through material online – even if it’s high quality writing (like, say, Catholic Beer Club’s blog!). Read a book because you’ll find something that informs and influences your day-to-day life; I guarantee it.

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The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

In certain ways, The Mysterious Benedict Society is a classic school story – think Harry Potter. Uniquely talented students band together in friendship to defeat an evil power. The only difference is the evil power is the school, sort of.

The book opens as its four main characters: Reynie Muldoon, Sticky Washington, Kate Wetherall, and Constance Contraire are being tested for “gifted” abilities in response to an ad. After passing the tests, the four join Mr. Benedict in his effort to infiltrate the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened (L.I.V.E.), an organization Mr. Benedict believes is advancing to take over the world.

The Mysterious Benedict Society won me over with its four protagonists. Their unique abilities, though certainly out of the ordinary, aren’t science fiction worthy like X-Men’s mutants. Still, their strengths are specific enough that it’s entertaining to watch how they each overcome obstacles in different ways. These complementary skills also underscore the most compelling reason to read The Mysterious Benedict Society – the friendship between these four.

 

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

For everyone who remembers how Pa Ingalls built a log cabin in Kansas and how malicious grasshoppers are, there’s Caddie Woodlawn. And if that last sentence made no sense to you, don’t write off this read quite yet.

Caddie Woodlawn bears comparison to the Little House series, the story of the Ingalls family, for good reason. Both are American frontier stories that focus on one little girl who is a bit of a tomboy, and like Laura Ingalls, Caddie Woodlawn adores her father.

Caddie Woodlawn, however, has no detailed descriptions of how a cabin is built or how they butchered their pigs. This book is more about Caddie’s coming-of-age than how life was lived in 19th century America. Caddie’s antics with her brothers, her beautiful relationship with her father, and her own struggle as a tomboy in a strict society are the highlights of this book. Still, Caddie Woodlawn delivers as a work of historical fiction as well. It imparts more the feel of the era than specific facts, but that historical sense is no less memorable.

 

Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfield

This madcap mystery is one of my favorite books from childhood, and believe me, it lives up to a reread. Detectives in Togas has the similar strengths to The Mysterious Benedict Society: both are set in schools and driven by the friendship of the protagonists, in this case seven Ancient Roman boys and their ultimately beloved, curmudgeonly instructor.

Detectives in Togas is also a bona fide whodunit that kept me engaged until the end. The historical details are intriguing. Like Caddie, facts are sprinkled alongside the story and definitely second in importance, but unlike Caddie, this world is farther from the intended audience by many centuries. This fact makes reading and re-reading Detectives in Togas more about the history, at least for me.

This book is the first of two that follow the adventures of the boys from the Xanthos School. It’s a short read that moves even quicker thanks to humorous dialogue and the pull of the mystery. Ultimately, this book succeeds on the cleverness of the plot and the endearing nature of the mischievous “detectives in togas.”

 

Bone series by Jeff Smith

This really is a series about a bone – a walking, talking, seeing, and feeling bone, but a bone nonetheless. And I’ll be honest, I never really got over the weirdness of it. As an adult reading these comics, published in graphic novel form, I think Smith intended for this fact to remain humorous and odd throughout the series. What Veggie Tales does to biblical stories, Bone does to Lord of the Rings.

The story centers around the three Bone cousins, Phoney Bone, Smiley Bone, and Fone Bone, who stumble into a fantasy world far from the “real world” of Boneville (where everyone is a human-like bone). They quickly get caught up in the fate of a beautiful and mysterious girl, Thorn, and the struggle to defeat the evil Lord of the Locusts (I told you these creatures were bad news).

The several books that make up the series all work well together and the comic book format means that you’ll want to spend time appreciating Smith’s artwork as well. While I was initially skeptical about how much I could invest in a bone creature, the series has an impressive amount of heart, adventure, and relatability.

 

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Fans of director Hayao Miyazaki will recognize this title from his adaptation. Much like the Japanese film, Howl’s Moving Castle is carried by its fresh, outspoken young heroine, Sophie Hatter. Nonetheless, the book and movie differ significantly, though, in my opinion, both stand in their own right.

Despite her youth, Sophie Hatter spends the majority of the book in the form of a much older woman, the result of a spell cast by the villain, the Witch of the Waste. Once under the spell, the now elderly Sophie leaves home and begins working in the fantastic mobile castle of the Wizard Howl, famed both for his talent and womanizing exploits.

My favorite part of this book is the development of Sophie. As a young woman she is bored by her fate and, in turn, rather boring. The spell that weakens her by taking away her youth and health ultimately pushes her personality to develop into an interesting, vital character.

The book follows Sophie and Howl’s growing affection as the two attempt to free themselves from their different curses. Jones’ magical world is often unconventional without ever being pretentious, and while the plot sustains several twists and turns, it ultimately wraps up nicely.

 

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I hope these titles provide a place to start as you relax with a good story and (soon) enjoy the success of finishing a novel. As the quote at the beginning of this article attests, C.S. Lewis was a great advocate of reading so-called children’s books. For him, it was fairy stories, but I think the sentiment holds true for books across genres:

“To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. . .When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
— C.S. Lewis, On Three Ways of Writing for Children

The Dangers of Leisure

Before the start of the academic year I take students at our university to Colorado. I never quite know what to call our experience. It is part “retreat”: a chaplain accompanies us, there is daily Mass, rosary, divine office, discussions of faith. It’s also part “recreation”: we climb 14ers, swim in lakes high in the mountains, sight see, stargaze. It’s also part “academic symposium”: we read and discuss Plato, Benedict XVI, Alan Bloom, Bl. Cardinal Newman.

If you have read my previous posts at CBC, you can guess right that my preferred term for all of this would be “leisure”. Cultivation of the human person as a whole: mind, body, and spirit. What I was reminded of, on this particular trip, was just how dangerous leisure can be.

College students, as you know, are not early-to-be, early-to-rise. And on the last day of the trip we were one of the last groups to start our morning ascent of Quandary Peak. Besides a case of altitude sickness, we were doing well. Below the tree-line there were plenty of “ooh” and “aah” moments with loveable forest animals and August flowers. As we broke through the tree line and made our way along a ridge before the final ascent, we had our mid-morning snack interrupted by a mountain goat and her kid.

A student asked and we started to recited Fr. Hopkin’s “God’s Grandeur”.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God...

Swiftly after this clouds began to roll in and the race began to summit before the usual afternoon storms.

It will flame out like shining from shook foil...

What a poor choice of poem for those soon about to brave 14,000 feet with storms rising!

One group raced to the top. I myself, by pretext of waiting for one of the men who had fallen behind, gave my not-as-limber-as-21 legs and lungs a chance to recover before the final ascent about 100 feet from the rocky summit. As the first group began to make its way down, it began, in the choice phrase of one sophomore, “hailing Dippin’ Dots”. Any hope of cover lay about 2,000 feet below. As Miss Dickinson put it, “the dews drew quivering and chill”. Suddenly at 14,300 feet August traded places with December. The view was surreal, or rather supra-real. Hazy through the cloud I could see miles below in the valley patches of sunlight and reservoirs. At my feet the hail built up into tiny drifts between the rocks. It was like standing between the pages of a children’s book, to my left a picture of winter, to my right summer.

After the initial, “Is this happening moment?”, I crossed myself, said my act of contrition and began to book it down the mountain. As chance would have it, a senior majoring in meteorology was my companion down the mountain. To be stuck INSIDE the cloud of a hailstorm with a meteorologist is an experience I shall never forget. Magic Schoolbus, eat your heart out.

I was told later that a student in one of the groups below, not grasping the seriousness of our situation began reciting John Donne’s Holy Sonnet X:

Death, be not proud...

That evening as we gathered for Mass our chaplain summarized the experience well. The Christian is to live every day as though it were his last. Leisure, holy leisure, as we experience it in this life is a preparation for death. Our philosophic speculations, if they are not mere navel-gazing; and our sport, if played in earnest; and our faith, if it seeks something beyond earthly peace [Matthew 10:34], will always be conducted for mortal stakes.

In the eyes of this world, God’s peace is a very dangerous thing.

 

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
   It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
   It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
   And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
   And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
   There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
   Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
   World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

5 Bands you need to see live

I go to a lot of concerts. I have spent far too much time and money seeing shows; but let me tell you, it has been worth every second and every last penny. There is something special that happens when you witness music performed. Watching the emotion the artist pours into each song; how an entire group of people can be united by beauty, joy and the call to something outside of themselves. So here it is, my list of the best bands to see live!

1) Jared and the Mill

Any time these guys come through Denver you can bet I will be there front and center. They are incredibly talented musicians with an amazing capacity to connect with a crowd of total strangers. This band is one of my all-time favorites because of their live shows. They always come into the crowd to do at least one song completely acoustic. It really is a special moment when the crowd is hushed after the jumble of sound that surrounds the band as they descend the stage and join you in the crowd. These guys tour recklessly and are getting ready to release new music so it is very likely they are coming to a dive bar near you!

2) The Oh Hellos

I just saw these guys for the first time last month and was beyond impressed. I have casually like this band for a while but never really was a huge fan. After their last album “Dear Wormwood” was released I bought my ticket. I was totally surprised by their performance. What I had expected was a mellow, low key evening. What I got was equally as rambunctious and rowdy as it was moving and evocative. Their music flourishes when their zealous energy is driving it. I only regret waiting so long to see them.

3) Moon Taxi 

I first saw these guys when I was at a music festival in Austin, TX. I was blown away by their dynamic stage presence and unending energy. You could see the crowd drink that energy in and be revived and enlivened by it. They managed to bring that summer festival feel to Colorado in the dead of winter when I saw them again.  These guys are nothing but pure rock; they know it, we know it and I love it. Just hearing them perform “Change” is worth the price of admission.  

4) The Hunts

Talk about an absolutely beautiful display of musical talent. This band is made up of seven real life siblings that spend their entire set bouncing between instruments and wowing you with how effortless they make it all look. Their humility radiates through in their performance leaving you feeling like you want them all to be your new best friend.

5) The Lumineers

I have a hard time putting into words exactly what it was like seeing The Lumineers. There are so many things that made that show one of the best concerts I have ever been to. I have been a fan since the first shouts of “Ho Hey”. But, what I felt that night was something akin to what I have felt on the top of high mountains or running at breakneck speeds on horseback. With the exception of the sacraments, it was one of the most elevating experiences on earth. It was exhilarating and beautiful. It made me want to be better and do better. And isn’t that what beauty is supposed to do, to call us to something greater? It was an experience that demanded a response.

I only included bands I have seen. There are plenty of other artists, who I am sure put on amazing shows I have not been to (The Black Keys, yeah I am looking at you, Mumford & Sons I am coming for you). If you have any suggestions for me and others COMMENT!

 

Mount Carmel in the City

Of all the places to be in late June, I do not recommend Phoenix, AZ. The temperature the past few days had been topping off at 120°, so hot and dry that you did not notice your sweat because it boiled off your epidermis upon contact. But as much as the heat forced its presence upon my mind, the sight of Camelback Mountain in the midst of the city all the more assaulted my imagination as my Uber drove me from the airport to our conference.

We lodged in the valley of its presence. But great as my desire to climb its height, I learned to turn my eyes away from that vision cutting into the blue above me. I had only packed my swim trunks in addition to my dress clothes. And without a proper pair of hiking boots, I had resigned myself to a week of swimming between discussions of Josef Pieper, Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, the Church Fathers and Bl. Newman, St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

Fortunately, a couple undergraduate conference aides and a younger group of teachers were more ambitious than this aging professor. And near the end of our week, I found myself at 6am––before the sun begins to empty his quiver on the trespassers of the day––waiting for a quick ride to the trailhead. So I found myself in t-shirt, running shorts, brown dress shoes, and khaki dress socks ready to ascend Camelback.

It was the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. As we ascended higher, the little vegetation grew scarcer. Already at 6:30am, we saw more descending than joining us in our ascent. The shadows grew smaller. A mockingbird. Then some insects. “And the same John had his garment of camels’ hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins: and his meat was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4).

One of the young teachers, a missionary in Belize, was amazed at the phenomenon of so many Americans obviously hiking the mountain as part of their daily exercise routine. No one in Belize, except soccer players, subjected the body to such toils outside work. I thought of our reading in Pieper. They know no leisure. They have made work out of their spare time. A middle aged man called out the number of times he had passed someone as he ran up and down the trail. Another man in green camou subjected us to the pop-rap blasting from the speakers attached to his hips as he billy-goated up the mountain. “The voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness the paths of our God” (Isaiah 40:3).

As we rose higher, the vegetation gave way to dirt, the dirt to rock. The trail turned to the north, we found groups huddled under the eaves of boulders recovering their strength. We too stopped and worried about how low our water was. There were few still on the ascent above us. Some groups began to turn back, abandoning the quest even in the shadow of the summit. I wanted to turn back. My dress shoes were ruined with dust and sweat. My arches rebelled from the irregular rhythms of the rocks. My calves seized tight and whispered dreams of descent. My companions, all a decade younger, were a hundred meters ahead of me. I could turn around. The city yawned below me. All around, to north, south, east, west, the city sprawled. Patches of smog like whispers of fog on the lake, but otherwise a clear view of the city. A mosaic floor with their geometric patterns of roads and houses surrounded by the wall of mountains. This mountain, cut off from the others, stood like an altar in the center of this basilica under the baldacchino of the heavens. What view could the summit afford me better than what I already had? “What went you out into the desert to see? A reed shaken with the wind?” (Matthew 11:7).

At the summit, I found my younger companions were sprawled on the rocks. I rested my legs. One of the men read from the life of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. But my thoughts were not on modern saints. In the last moments up the mountain, as the slick soles of my dress shoes negotiated whatever cracks I found in the rocks, my thoughts turned to John, Elijah, and the angels. Here, this supposedly domesticated mountain in the midst of modern America became my Carmel. “And he said to him: Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord: and behold the Lord passeth, and a great and strong wind before the Lord over throwing the mountains, and breaking the rocks in pieces: the Lord is not in the wind, and after the wind an earthquake: the Lord is not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire: the Lord is not in the fire, and after the fire a whistling of a gentle air.” (1 Kings 19:11-12)

I was supposed to finish reading Fr. Danielou’s “The Angels and Their Mission” for our morning discussion. How little we think of them. As we descended, my mind turned to them as I negotiated the rocks, conscious of the peril I faced. The light grew in intensity and, descending, my mind was pierced more by its brilliance than its heat. How bright and terrible they must be. Upon Carmel, we have no Renaissance putti, no Hallmark card cherubs. Seraph means “the burning one”. How little thought I had given to the light. “But what went you out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are clothed in soft garments, are in the houses of kings. But what went you out to see? A prophet? Yea I tell you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.” (Matthew 11:8-10).

Back in the valley: How long shall I carry this illuminating vision? Still, my mind wrestles with the image of this mountain in the midst of urban sprawl. There is no distant mountain obscured by mist. There is no “tomorrow, perhaps”. There is no feeling of safety or comfort. And that is good. I often wondered at the fearful reaction of Zechariah’s neighbors to his song. A song so important that it is said every day in the Liturgy of the Hours. It was is the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. On this day, the ears of man first heard this song that broke Zechariah’s long silence. Music and silence. Neither of these exist in Hell. I look at the text again. Now I see it. Per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri, in quibus visitabit nos oriens ex alto. “Through the bowels of the mercy of our God, in which the Orient from on high hath visited us.” (Luke 1:78). It is the same in the Greek. What imp had led us to say, “because of the tender mercy of our God”? Viscera. Bowels. The entrails of God’s mercy. A scandalizing thought. “But one of the soldiers with a spear opened his side, and immediately there came out blood and water” (John 19:34).

Is Summer About Escape?

Well it’s finally here. Summertime! Days of waiting for that last school bell, the last carpool line, the last exam, and the last whatever else, and now we are here! It is officially summer and Americans across the country rejoice in the wonder and excitement of no school, vacations, and weeks of leisure! I was blessed to spend a week at the Outer Banks in North Caroline the last weekend in May, before summer crowds descended in droves on the sandy paradise. There isn't anything else like feeling the sand between your toes, hearing the waves rolling in, when, in the words of Jimmy Buffet, "the only worry int he world is if the tide's gonna reach my chair."

I have always had an affinity for summertime, the relaxation, and the time to unwind, to leave behind the stresses of everyday. However, recently I've noticed that I often find myself looking to vacation for fulfillment, which leads to a disappointment when the time of relaxation is over. In the midst of the season of summer, it has been important for me to enter into vacation with an attitude of thanksgiving and looking for opportunities to give of myself during my time away.

It is important that we take time to relax and unwind, but it is also imperative that we do so well. Joseph Pieper has written a great book, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, in which he expounds on our modern understanding of leisure, and how it has been distorted. Many of us see leisure as a time of consumption, entertainment, and self-indulgence; binge-watching Netflix, eating and drinking a little too much, spending extravagantly, indulging our appetites, laziness, and selfishness. 

Of course, as Christians we realize that none of these are healthy ways to spend our leisure, but nevertheless, it is easy for these attitudes that surround us to creep into out hearts. Leisure in the truest sense of the word is an opportunity to reflect, to be rejuvenated, and should be the apex of our existence, rather than a small break from the daily routine, merely to recharge and re-enter that routine without having changed.

 

Through times of leisure (which Pieper would describe as much more than vacation) we ought to have time to reflect on what we've received and experienced and to wonder at the life we life. Leisure is an opportuity for us to adjust out attitudes! it is so much more than 'getting away from it all'. I hope that this summer you have a chance to sit in wonder at the amazing things that God has gifted you. Even through the difficult times we can always find something to be thankful for it we just take the time. Let's make this summer a time of transformation instead of simply a time to escape.

 

LEISURE: WHY WE SHOULD TAKE TIME TO ENJOY BEER

LEISURE: WHY WE SHOULD TAKE TIME TO ENJOY BEER

I recently read another blog post from adoration.com (a great URL and website!) discussing our societal preoccupation with our smartphones. In their defense, they are a great tool that can be extremely helpful! But the danger of becoming overly occupied with our phones is that we lose our sense of the here and now, and most importantly, the people who we are present in our lives…Easy enough to argue against, and I think we can all easily identify moments in which we’ve fallen prey to this trap.