“All toil together and all rest together.”
Virgil, Georgics

Toiling together and resting together are two things we crave. These are the two main kinds of activity nature provides to join us with those we love. In these we enact our relationships and experience the choicest joys.

This time of year offers unique opportunity to think about and to enact toil and rest. But especially rest. Our celebration of holy days calls for some intense work precisely because our celebration should offer intense rest.

Intense rest. The notion entices. It is a masterpiece, the fruit of a crafting. Intense rest happens only if we make it happen. Work is required, to ready our souls and open a space. Intense rest is more of a resting-in than a resting-from; it is leisure in the rich sense. It is most deeply rejuvenating because it is doing what is most life-giving.

Our problem is not too much activity. The problem is not enough of the right activity: the kind that gives energy rather than consumes it.

What will it look like? How do we know what to aim for?

Having experienced intense rest before will be a great help; indeed, it is the surest way to know what we are seeking. But regardless, there is something in all of us reaching out for it. So we stand a chance of recognizing it—more to the extent that we really want to recognize it—when we see it, and feel it.

Here are three things we can look for and cultivate in our time together with loved ones this year:

1. activities that turn our attention to enduring realities, as opposed to current events and issues.

There is a time for discussing current events and the challenges of our day. And there is a time to stop, and turn to things of more enduring significance. A particular vice of our current context is to lose sight of enduring goods in an over-wrought, if understandable, anxiety about such goods as health and wealth. Focus on the higher does not compromise lower things; it strengthens them.

For example: read or tell stories of men and women of heroic or even ‘normal’ upright character. Such an activity can capture the imagination, feed the mind, and move the heart, all while joining spirits. Try Dickens’s A Christmas Carol this year.

2. activities that encourage being over appearing; and presence over communication.

The nearly constant expectation of our life being aired for consumption is debilitating and deforming. We need to experience life as a being rather than an appearing to others. This allows us to be present to those in our physical—which means real—presence. Who we actually are and whom we are actually with, now in the flesh: these can be prioritized.

For example: carve out a time and space with no photographic or audio recording, and no interruption for communication or ‘sharing’ with anyone not bodily present. This already is to nurture and call out the inner, more authentic self. It also gives a safer space to be vulnerable.

We can take pictures and share; but we need to discern how to do so without undermining what is more important: resting in the here and now. Intensely.

3. activities that encounter the truly beautiful.

Beauty is in some sense in the eye of the beholder. But it is first in the truly beautiful itself. And it is the human privilege to seek it out and revel in it. Together. This is not escapism. Rather, it is to step out from the empire of the utilitarian, banal, or ugly to the freedom of the things for which we were made.

For example: listen to beautiful music; sing beautiful carols; recite poetry together; read passages of great literature; go into the great outdoors. Beauty both natural and man-made is food for the soul, a feast fit for men.

For many of us there is no season in the calendar so fit for such activities as the weeks upcoming. We can make it happen: around the table, the hearth, or the Christmas tree; in the kitchen, the concert hall, or the great outdoors; in the coziness of home or the splendor of church. The possibility, nay the reality of intense rest beckons.

 

Related reading:

To delve more into the nature of leisure, see the Concepts Made Clear series of my super short videos. Clarify your concepts of leisure, work, and amusement. Watch one at a time, or all together. And share them.

 

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