Jesus reveals that true manhood loses itself for the beloved. But what if we don’t see others as exactly loveable, let alone “beloved”? If you are having trouble really loving, perhaps you’re having trouble seeing. We look at humanity and the humans that make it up (even those close to us) and see sin, error, ugliness – but God saw a prize worth dying for. Maybe the problem with your lack of love is a blurred vision. We want to be free from looks of lust, and other utilitarian distortions, and see the world, and especially those close to us, as good and beautiful, as loveable; as “Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear” (Shakespeare). But how?
To love someone is to see them as they are and to say, “It is good that you exist.” Its not to see them through some lens or ideal, but to truly see them. “It is good that you exist.” That doesn’t sound “lovey” to you? Consider the alternative: “It is not good that you exist.” Now that’s an un-lovey sentence. (Say it out loud with a little grit, you’ll hear the terror of the very idea.)
The warmth of an embrace, the feeling of the loving gaze, the pat on the head, the smile – all of these things tell the other that “It is good that you are.” It is but a repetition of God’s loving proclamation after He loved reality into being: “And God saw all that he had made, and found it very good” (Gen. 1:31, Knox Version). This is why the tactic of women giving men the “silent treatment” is such a cruel thing – “It is so not good that you are here that I’m pretending you’re not.” Or consider a child growing up to say of his father, “He was so busy it was like I wasn’t there. “ Or consider when your wife or girlfriend says something like, “Do you hear me? Do you even see me right now? I feel invisible.” Those questions are really begging an answer to a deep ache within us, a much deeper question: “Is it good that I am? Am I loveable?” Most arguments between spouses are not about the particulars, but this very question: am I seen, known, heard, loved? Am I worth it?
Consider this in the many instances when the gaze, the seeing, of Jesus is described – He “sees” their faith, their sin, their thoughts. And He loves them. “Jesus beholding him loved him…” (Mark 10:21). To “behold” is to hold-into-being – to “take in” a thing fully. You can look at a sunset, but to behold it is to let in a bit of the essence of a sunset. The loving and creating gaze of God is the very thing that holds the world and us in being (and I mean that very literally) and when we learn to behold we are participating in something much bigger than ourselves. Its Godly!
Leisure at the heart of manliness
Therefore, leisure, not work, is at the core of manliness, because leisure helps us see and love, because it stops from activity to “behold” – to hold a thing before us and consider, ponder, and wonder at it. Mary’s greatness is not rooted in her words and gestures (though its there too), but we see that her words and gestures are born from her striking ability to “hold” reality before her and to ponder it – “But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). We live in a world of action and words, but they quickly become mere activity and empty words without moments of stillness and quiet.
I am an extrovert. My work (Fraternus) requires tremendous amounts of communication and I contribute to various newsletters, etc. It’s a lot of talking. But I find very quickly that if I do not root myself in silence I quickly become noisy. Silence – experienced especially in leisure – must be the source of my work or my world slips from intentional acts of my will and intellect into a world of reaction and busyness – spinning tires, as they say. “Only the word that emerges from silence is substantial and powerful,” claimed Ramono Guardini. And I hope you’re linking some things here – leisure in silence, then reflective silence producing a clear sight that is able to love, then giving true substance to our words. “I may speak with every tongue that men and angels use; yet, if I lack charity, I am no better than echoing bronze, or the clash of cymbals” (1 Cor. 13:1, Knox). If I have not love I am nothing.
Interestingly, in English we think of leisure as “not work” but in other classical languages it is work that means “not leisure”. This is because it is at leisure that the uniqueness of man shines forth. Animals work too, because work is what we do by necessity because of the state of our existence – we have a body that needs food and shelter so we work. And, because it is in our nature to work, work can be sanctified and made holy. But, when man is glorified, elevated by grace to the fullness of his being, he does not set out to a new work, but to rest. Those of us that labor are called in Christ that He may give us rest. The curse of God is expulsion from His rest (Ps. 95:11). The day dedicated to God is not a day of work but a day of rest.
True leisure is active
But just because we are resting doesn’t mean we aren’t doing anything at leisure. Like sleeping, leisure is something we have to “let” happen, but it is a doing – you still go to sleep. Just as we “go after” grace but we don’t generate it, we must “go after” leisure. Both things – grace and leisure – are matters of reception, and as men we like to do and we are reluctant to admit when we have received. Again, leisure is not not-work. Leisure is the receptive, open gaze into the world. When you stop reacting, stop and see, everything becomes better ordered, much the way God from “His rest” ordered (created) the world in love. This is why the wise man, who is necessarily a man of leisure, has the ability to “put things in perspective.” He sees. When you engage in leisure your anxieties are put in their place and the things that matter are put in theirs, and this is usually a reversal of the former and latter.
But really… what do you “do” at leisure? That is a hard question, kinda. Things are “produced” in leisure, but it is the production of the “useless” things of life – poetry, music, laughter, games, prayer and so on. But what is important is that you actually teach yourself to do nothing. The stillness, the “nothingness”, of leisure will soon become something, just as sin makes something into nothing (the reversal of creation, nothing into something). Quite a paradox, I know.
You know leisure more than you think. Have you ever stopped, after a difficult day of tears and time-outs, and seen your child sleeping? The innocence and goodness of that moment puts things into perspective. You just look. You behold. Work, toil, and stress become temporary again and you realize that this, this loveable thing in front of you, this has more to do with real life than any achievement. You see more than a child, but you see eternity in a way – the immortal soul in front of you changes you. In that moment of gazing you are doing nothing, but something is happening. This can happen beholding the sunrise, under the night sky, or even in an armchair in a moment when varied truths come together in through author’s words and you proclaim: “ah-ha!”. “[Truth] can be recognized only from silence” (Guardini).
“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
Indulgence is not leisure
Any form of “not working” that is indulging of the body or the senses is not leisure. Facebook has to do with leisure about as much as a buffet has to do with feasting – nothing. A buffet is the sinful indulgence of the body (we use to confess sins like gluttony before we got so damn rich and actually began bragging about “all you can eat”). Similarly, “not working” things like television, internet binges, and shopping are not leisure. Binge shopping for televisions on the internet is especially not leisure. If you want to “train” yourself in leisure, go to parks, gardens, front porches, the woods – go somewhere quiet where you will be free to gaze, to see, to ponder. Turn things off. Get up and watch the sunrise. Turn off the lights and see the shadows of your home. John Senior asked the question whether we will have true culture without shadows (referring to the way technology like electricity removes the natural impact of created reality – light, sound, cold, heat). The question is a good one.
True leisure is a foretaste of the contemplative gazing of heaven. Tonight, go outside and look at the stars for a while, look to the heavens. And this wont just help you to love better, but will help you to be loved, or at least realize that you are loved. Some of you might not feel like God loves, that He really cares for you. Well, He does. The Psalmist was struck that He does, and this “striking” was a result of beholding, of gazing, and stillness. David knew God’s love especially in the stillness of leisure. If King David had time to shut up and look at the stars, I think you can too.
So, c’mon, say it with David: “For I will behold thy heavens, the works of thy fingers: the moon and the stars which thou hast founded. What is man that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him?” (Psalm 8 :3-4).
by W. H. Davies
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.