Category: Of Worship and Work

The point of leisure

November 8th, 2015 — 3:07pm

Leisure does not exist for the sake of work—however much strength it may give a man to work; the point of leisure is not to be a restorative, a pick-me-up, whether mental or physical; and though it gives new strength, mentally and physically, and spiritually too, that is not the point. . . .

The point and the justification of leisure are not that the functionary should function faultlessly and without a breakdown, but that the functionary should continue to be a man—and that means that he should not be wholly absorbed in the clear-cut milieu of his strictly limited function; the point is also that he should retain the faculty of grasping the world as a whole and realizing his full potentialities as an entity meant to reach Wholeness.

Because Wholeness is what man strives for, the power to achieve leisure is one of the fundamental powers of the human soul. Like the gift for contemplative absorption in the things that are, and like the capacity of the spirit to soar in festive celebration, the power to know leisure is the power to overstep the boundaries of the workaday world and reach out to superhuman, life-giving existential forces that refresh and renew us before we turn back to our daily work. Only in genuine leisure does a “gate to freedom” open. Through that gate man may escape from the “restricted area” of that “latent anxiety” which a keen observer has perceived to be the mark of the world of work, where “work and unemployment are the two inescapable poles of existence.”

(Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture, pp. 49–51)

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Hard work and divine gifts

November 8th, 2015 — 2:55pm

The inmost significance of the exaggerated value which is set upon hard work appears to be this: man seems to mistrust everything that is effortless; he can only enjoy, with a good conscience, what he has acquired with toil and trouble; he refuses to have anything as a gift.

We have only to think for a moment how much the Christian understanding of life depends upon the existence of “Grace”; let us recall that the Holy Spirit of God is himself called a “gift” in a special sense; that the great teachers of Christianity say that the premise of God’s justice is his love; that everything gained and everything claimed follows upon something given, and comes after something gratuitous and unearned; that in the beginning there is always a gift—we have only to think of all this for a moment in order to see what a chasm separates the tradition of the Christian West and that other view.

(Josef Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture, pp. 35–36)

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A double noughting

November 1st, 2015 — 3:43pm

It is [a] double nullity of both subject and world, I contend, that underlies entertainment culture and the numbing array of cultural choices produced by it. The very notion of entertainment presumes the state of boredom as the norm, which means that a culture increasingly fueled by this notion assumes that our lives are innately and intrinsically meaningless without the constant stream of “stimulation” and distraction, a stream inevitably subject to the law of diminishing returns. This nullity on the side of the subject is matched by a similar noughting in the world, for latent in this assumption is a corollary denial of form, objective beauty, or a true order of goods that naturally and of themselves compels our interest. As a consequence, according to this cultural logic, all such choices can only be indifferently related to one another. None is intrinsically good or bad, and indeed no good approaches that of choice itself. Hence most citizens of the modern West, almost of necessity, live lives of profound fragmentation and internal contradiction, and yet these contradictions too frequently make no real competing claims on lives and loyalties and cause little pain or anguish to those who are subject to them. Yet the effect of many of these choices is less to please than to stupefy, anesthetize or distract us from the failed festivals, broken communities, and otherwise empty existence imposed by a formless goalless world. (Michael Hanby, “The Culture of Death, the Ontology of Boredom, and the Resistance of Joy”)


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Mood worship and the mundane world

November 8th, 2014 — 9:53am

The idea that worship is a matter of mood, of setting aside the mundane world in which we live in an attempt to attain a higher plane or more “spiritual” mood or state of mind is inherently dualistic and assumes a sacred/ secular dichotomy that is not found in the Christian Scriptures. This concept of spirituality combines elements of mysticism and paganism, but is essentially a notion derived from the Greek dualistic perspective that underpinned the Alexandrian world-view, which has afflicted the Christian Church from the beginning (and our society at large as well). It is this Greek dualistic heritage that is the source of pietism, which mood worship is a good example of. Spirituality, biblically speaking, is not an attempt to escape from or rise above this mundane world in any sense, but rather the proper dedication of this mundane world to the service of God. (Stephen C. Perks, The Christian Passover: Agape Feast or Ritual Abuse? pp. 12–13)

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Probing questions

October 21st, 2014 — 12:03pm

As liturgical forms, content, and styles of celebration are changed, we must ask probing questions of any liturgical material. What theology is being prayed? What experience of (what) God is being promoted? What in the story of Christ is being proclaimed? What understanding of the church is being generated? What attitude toward the creation is being cultivated? What relationship to the world is being strategized? What kind of worship is being made possible? What kind of hospitality is being extended? How are new Christians being made? What values are being instilled? What doctrines are being expressed? Cultural anthropologists have learned through case studies that a change of ritual forms can bring about a change of doctrine. Such data need to be taken seriously lest the community of faith gain the whole world and lost its soul. (Frank C. Senn, New Creation: A Liturgical Worldview, p. xi)

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Does prayer work?

March 25th, 2014 — 6:52am

The very question “Does prayer work?” puts us in the wrong frame of mind from the outset. “Work”: as if it were magic, or a machine – something that functions automatically. Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary – not necessarily the most important one – from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is. (C. S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” in The World’s Last Night and Other Essays)

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Too obvious to question

February 28th, 2014 — 11:26am

We cannot choose not to wonder at the characteristics of our era. If there are those who do not do so, let us by all means not awaken them. But when philosophical wonder, unbidden, uninvited, sets before us the culture of our time, we can no more suppress it than blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. There is plenty to show that those who do not make an effort to read their times in a disciplined way read them all the same, but with narrow and parochial prejudice. . . . The disciplines we need are those that good modernity-critics display: to see the marks of our time as the products of our past; to notice the danger civilisation poses to itself, not only the danger of barbarian reaction; to attend especially not to those features which strike our contemporaries as controversial, but to those which would have astonished an onlooker from the past but which seem to us too obvious to question. (Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology, p. 273)

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Smooth road to inferiority

August 30th, 2013 — 9:30am

I will speak to you as a friend, foolish Perses. Inferiority can be got in droves, easily: the road is smooth, and she lives very near. But in front of Superiority the immortal gods set sweat; it is a long and steep path to her, and rough at first. But when one reaches the top, then it is easy, for all the difficulty. (Hesiod, Works and Days, trans. M. L. West)

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Waiting for the weekend

January 26th, 2013 — 9:42pm

One of the largest obstacles to true Sabbath-keeping is leisure. It is what cultural historian Witold Rybczynski calls “waiting for the weekend,” where we see work as only an extended interlude between our real lives. Leisure is what Sabbath becomes when we no longer know how to sanctify time. Leisure is Sabbath bereft of the sacred. It is a vacation – literally, a vacating, an evacuation. As Rybczynski sees it, leisure has become despotic in our age, enslaving us and exhausting us, demanding from us more than it gives.

We all know how unsatisfying mere leisure can be. We’ve all known what it’s like to return to the classroom or the workplace after a time spent in revelry or retreat, in high jinks or hibernation: typically, we go back weary and depressed, like jailbirds caught. The time away from work wasn’t time sanctified so much as time stolen, time when we escaped for a short-lived escapade.

The difference between this and Sabbath couldn’t be sharper. Sanctifying some time adds richness to all time, just as an hour with the one you love brings light and levity to the hours that follow. To spend time with the object of your desire is to emerge, not sullen and peevish, but elated and refreshed. You come away filled, not depleted. (Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath, pp. 35–36)

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Creativity and temptation

November 16th, 2012 — 10:14am

The more man lives in his artificial man-made reality amongst man’s structures and machinery, the more strongly he receives the impression that he is the creator of his own existence. . . . This does not mean that technics or productivity inevitably estrange man from God. Even the most creative mind, and even the man who has to live entirely among machinery and within a man-made surrounding, can remain God-conscious and can do whatever he does for the glory of God. Human creativity and the man-made reality is not the reason or cause, but it is the great temptation to Godlessness. The more creative man is, the more he is tempted to confound himself with the Creator. The danger is the titanism of the creative man who, inebriated by his feeling of creativity and in a kind of mystic ecstasy, thinks himself to be God. It is that old phenomenon of [hubris], of man’s forgetting his limits, which brings him to ruin. (Emil Brunner, Christianity and Civilisation: Foundations, pp. 151–52)

Remarkably, this is from a lecture delivered in 1947!

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