In Search of Holy Leisure

Was this our last family picnic? (circa 2004)

In between bouts of folding laundry, cleaning house, and preparing lunch one recent day, I spotted a family sitting on my next-door neighbor’s front lawn. After a second look, I realized the man was the construction worker who had been pouring concrete in the neighborhood all morning. He was taking a lunch break and his pregnant wife and young son joined him for a picnic under the shade of my neighbor’s tree.

As I continued about my chores, when I walked past the front window, I would sneak another peek of the family. It was like gazing at a beautiful painting to absorb every little detail. I stepped back, folded my arms, and marveled at the beauty on the other side of the window. A sense of peace permeated their picnic. When the time came for their goodbyes, the husband shared plenty of hugs and kisses with his wife and son. The baby within his wife’s womb even received a few smooches. I walked away from the window feeling blessed and better for witnessing that encounter.

Ephphatha — Be Opened!

What was it about that family’s picnic that stopped me in my tracks? I have a hunch it has something to do with a small but important Aramaic word: “Ephphatha.”

In the Gospel of Mark, we journey with Jesus and a deaf man. Jesus took him aside, touched his ears and tongue, and with a deep sigh said “Ephphatha!” or “Be opened!” Immediately the man began to hear and speak fluently.

That one word, Ephphatha, can sum up Christ’s entire mission. Pope Benedict says, “He became man so that man, made inwardly deaf and dumb by sin, would become able to hear the voice of God, the voice of love speaking to his heart, and learn to speak in the language of love, to communicate with God and with others … to enable us to fully live our relationship with God and with others.” 

Holy Leisure

As I reflected on why that family’s picnic seemed to move me so, the words “Holy Leisure” rested on my heart. The Church fathers, St. Benedict in particular, wrote about the need for Otium Sanctum or Holy Leisure. It refers to an ability to rest and take time to enjoy beauty, to be at peace through the activities of the day, to pace ourselves. 

The family enjoying their leisurely picnic was the conduit to receive my Ephphatha message. The words Holy and Leisure are not ones I use together often; I don’t recall ever uttering that phrase. God was speaking to me through that family. How grateful the eyes of my heart were open to receive the message as so often they are not.

I wish I could insert some helpful takeaway here, like a 4-step do-it-yourself process with a cheesy title, “Four Ways to Incorporate Holy Leisure into Your Life!” Truth is, I have very little ground to stand on. 

When Joel first started deacon formation, the ability to establish proper balance between family, work, and diaconal ministries was stressed. It’s certainly an area for growth here at Das Schmidt Haus. Our ongoing, twice-a-month deacon formation study weekends on top of life in general have us feeling hurried and frenzied. Things like leisurely picnics are so often an afterthought. When your four-year-old daughter mimics your “Hurry up! We’re going to be late!” perpetual pleas, it might be a clue the pace of life may be a little out of balance.

I read that if one’s work is properly ordered and subordinated to leisure, everything else then falls harmoniously into place. The challenge now lies in grasping that balance. We have some ideas, but I’ll save them for a future blogpost with that cheesy title.

And a Recommendation

Oh, lest not I forget, a wise friend suggested I share the construction worker’s name far and wide. Gino is his name, his lovely bride is Julia, and their company is Economic Concrete Services. Word on the street is their leisurely picnics are not always welcome under the shade of someone else’s tree. Looks like I’m not the only one in need of an eye-opening “Holy Leisure” moment. 

Ephphatha! Dona nobis Domine otium sanctum! Lord give us holy leisure!

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