Hopefully, all of us will enjoy some down time this summer. Family vacations, backyard barbecues, late sunsets and warmer weather all contribute to a greater sense of ease and peace. We can step off the treadmill of life for a while, breathe easier and relax a little bit. There is an emotional, physical and even spiritual value to sitting still.
The Catholic Church has always taken leisure seriously because human beings are not machines; as the saying goes, “We are human beings, not human doings.” We need silence, peace, rest and a suspension of activity to pray, study, deepen our relationships with God, others and ourselves.
God rested on the seventh day of creation, thus making holy the Sabbath both for Jews and Christians. Have we turned Sunday into just another workday when we get everything done that we couldn’t fit into the preceding six days? Do the Eucharist, family meals, rest and recreating activities take precedence for us on the day of the Lord?
In the Middle Ages, the serfs who endured a harsh existence of labor in the fields enjoyed the many holy days of the church calendar as days of leisure when they could forget about work for a day, enjoying the Lord and each other in observance of the holy feasts. Catholicism holds out a balanced life of worship, prayer, work, study, fun and rest as the human ideal. Maybe evil’s greatest ploy these days is to keep us so busy all the time that we are too exhausted, stressed, sad and empty to really nurture our relationship with God.
Whenever I am driving on the freeway, I contemplate the hundreds of cars flying past and wonder: Where are we all headed in such a hurry, and what are we going to do when we get there? The pace of modern life is so intense, the volume of information that bombards us every day is so huge, the expectations of constant technological availability are so pressing, that no wonder more people struggle with depression, anxiety, health issues and a terrible feeling of being at the end of one’s rope.
The mystical tradition of Catholicism is the timeless remedy for what ails our spirits. The saints call us to prayer, not just a quick prayer uttered before a meal or a test, but a substantial period of silence, where we sit still in front of the Lord, perhaps meditate on the Scriptures, offer a rosary, or simply let the Lord love us in the stillness of the moment. We could start with just five or 10 minutes a day and then let our heart’s desire for the Lord expand that time so well spent.
If I am too busy to spend 15 minutes a day with the Lord, then I am too busy. If the only reason we exist is to love and serve God in this life, then the fundamental reason we get out of bed in the morning is to nurture that relationship. Everything else that fills the day – the work, the cooking and cleaning, the sports events and the text messaging – only make sense if it all brings us closer to the Lord and each other.
Maybe the most radical and profound thing we can do in this high-speed, sleepless, hyperactive culture is not to join another committee, take on another project, support another cause, as good as all of that is, but to just sit still and wait on the Lord in silence and peace.
When we are faithful to such prayer every day, then what we speak and how we act will flow out of that still point in the center of our soul where the Lord has taken up his abode and burnt his love into our fragile human being.
As the song goes in “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” a film about St. Francis of Assisi, “If you want to live life free, take your time, go slowly. Do few things but do them well. Heart-felt work grows purely. Day by day, stone by stone build your secret slowly. Day by day you’ll grow too. You’ll know heaven’s glory.”