Worship and leisure

Divine worship means the same thing where time is concerned, as the temple where space is concerned. “Temple” means (as may be seen from the original sense of the word): that a particular piece of ground is specially reserved, and marked off from the remainder of the land which is used either for agriculture or for habitation. And this plot of land is transferred to the estate of the gods, it is neither lived on, nor cultivated. And similarly in divine worship a certain definite space of time is set aside from working hours and days, a limited time, specially marked off—and like the space allotted to the temple, it is not used, it is withdrawn from all merely utilitarian ends. Every seventh day is such a period of time. It is the “festival time,” and it arises in this way and no other.

There can be no such thing in the world of “total labor” as space which is not used on principle; no such thing as a plot of ground, or a period of time withdrawn from use. There is in fact no room in the world of “total labor” either for divine worship, or for a feast: because the “worker’s” world, the world of “labor” rests solely upon the principle of rational utilization. A “feast day” in that world is either a pause in the midst of work (and for the sake of work, of course), or in the case of “Labor Day,” or whatever feast days of the world of “work” may be called, it is the very principle of work that is being celebrated—once again, work stops for the sake of work, and the feast is subordinated to “work.” There can of course be games, circenses, circuses—but who would think of describing that kind of mass entertainment as festal?

It simply cannot be otherwise: the world of “work” and of the “worker” is a poor, impoverished world, be it ever so rich in material goods; for on an exclusively utilitarian basis, on the basis, that is, of the world of “work,” genuine wealth, wealth which implies overflowing into superfluities, into unnecessaries, is just not possible. Wherever the superfluous makes its appearance it is immediately subjected to the rationalist, utilitarian principle of the world of work. And, as the traditional Russian saying puts it: work does not make one rich, but round-shouldered.

On the other hand, divine worship, of its very nature, creates a sphere of real wealth and superfluity, even in the midst of the direst material want—because sacrifice is the living heart of worship. And what does sacrifice mean? It means a voluntary offering freely given. It definitely does not involve utility; it is in fact absolutely antithetic to utility. Thus, the act of worship creates a store of real wealth that cannot be consumed by the workaday world. It sets up an area where calculation is thrown to the winds and goods are deliberately squandered, where usefulness is forgotten and generosity reigns. Such wastefulness is, we repeat, true wealth; the wealth of the festival time. And only in this festival time can leisure unfold and come to fruition.

Separated from the sphere of divine worship, of the cult of the divine, and from the power it radiates, leisure is as impossible as the celebration of a feast. Cut off from the worship of the divine, leisure becomes laziness and work inhuman.

(Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture, pp. 67–68)

Category: Of Worship and Work Comment »

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