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Questions to Ponder Alone 

What are the things that are claiming my life and distorting me?

How does my work shape my view of my world?

In what ways does my work and my attitude toward work serve to build up the world?

If I could spend a Sabbath day anyway I chose, what would I do?

How could I begin to see the world through God's eyes?

What are the fears within me that keep me from balancing contemplation and activity in my life?



Questions to Ponder with Others

How does the phrase "time is money" diminish creativity?

How can we be a part of the re-claiming of holy leisure in the 21st century?

How can "purposeless play" still be playful?

What was the most self-indulgent vacation I've ever taken and how did I feel when it was over?


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Pray, Work, Rest, Play

Attaining Balance

Psalm and Process for Meditation

BalanceBenedict demanded a great deal more than the practice of private religious exercises which, good as they are, necessary as they are to the discipline, always run the risk of becoming more personal comfort than they do spiritual growth. Benedict modeled on both mountaintops and [in] cities a way of walking through the world that made the whole world a better place. I suggest that, if the 21st century needs anything at all, it may well be a return to the life-giving vision of Benedict the Illuminated One. It may well be that we need now a new respect for basic Benedictine values, a new reverence for bold Benedictine wisdom if civilization is to be saved again … well, no, my friends, this time if the planet is to be preserved.

—Joan Chittister
Trinity Institute Benedictine Spirituality Conference, 2003

[Saint] Benedict was quite precise about it all. Time was to be spent in prayer, in sacred reading, in work and in community participation. In other words, it was to be spent on listening to the Word, on study, on making life better for others and on community building. It was public as well as private; it was private as well as public. It was balanced.

With the invention of the light bulb, balance became a myth. Now human beings could extend the day and deny the night. Now human beings could break the natural rhythm of work and rest and sleep. Now human beings could begin to destroy the framework of life and turn it into one eternal day with, ironically, no time for family, no time for reading, no time for prayer, no time for privacy, no time for silence, no time for time.

Joan Chittister
Wisdom Distilled From The Daily (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1990) 74-75.

We’re supposedly a most creative country. There are two poles pulling at the modern concept of work. At one pole is the workaholic. At the other pole sits the pseudo-contemplative. Workaholics work because they have learned that what they do is really the only value they have. Or they work because they want to avoid having to do anything else in life, like family or prayer or living. Or they work because they don’t really want to work at all. What they really want is money, money, money. Pseudo-contemplatives, on the other hand, want to spend their hours gazing into space or processing. They spend every new year of life processing last year’s life. Nobody ever tells them, “It’s over, you can go on now.” Pseudo-contemplatives have missed the point entirely that Adam and Eve were put in the garden … in order to till it and to keep it, not to gaze at it. Not to live off of it. Not to lounge around in it like pigs in mud. They were put there to co-create it. Somehow or other in our Puritan heritage we got the idea that work is a punishment for sin. Work is not a punishment for sin. Even in the ideal world, a world in which there was no sin at all, before sin entered the world, Genesis is very clear: God expected us to take responsibility for the co-creation of the world. …

Work is our gift to the world. It's really work that ties us to the rest of humankind and binds us to the future. It's work that saves us from total self-centeredness and leads to self-fulfillment at the same time. It's work that makes it possible to give back as much as we take from life.…

Joan Chittister
Trinity Institute Benedictine Spirituality Conference, 2003

When we talk about everyday spirituality,… what I think we are really talking about is the need to achieve some way of entering those places of harmony where all the parts sing, where we hear the music of the spheres and we engage God, that great luminous darkness that is complete light and complete joy. We are looking for the way in which to take the spiritual that we do not know and the corporal that we know so well, and to bring them together.

From the beginning of mankind, certainly from the beginning of Judeo-Christian religion, there have been a number of ways of creating those little interruptions in normal life, those places where we can engage the mystery, those places of harmony and integration. A good Jew two thousand years ago would have known that one of the ways of interrupting life and meeting with the spiritual was the Sabbath. We used to keep the Sabbath. We used to set it aside and say, "Here is a time. Here is an interruption in one of the dimensions that informs life in which we will stop, and we will honor the Spirit of God." As a Christian we would take the host and say to ourselves, believing it, "We're about to eat the body of our God." And taking the chalice we would say, "We are about to drink the blood of our God who dared come among us and assume flesh and blood in order that that flesh and blood might spray out across all of human history and enter each of us." We would honor the time before that consumption and the hours after that consumption by an interruption of all other habits. We would hallow the time around that event—the Eucharist or the Mass or the Communion. That's what the Sabbath was, and it had built around it time and place.

Because we are creatures of dimension, if we wish to integrate all of the areas of experience into one place to meet the mystery, we must interrupt the dimensions. We must carve out space within the dimensions of time and place for that to happen.

Phyllis Tickle

Real leisure, holy leisure, Sabbath leisure, contemplative leisure, has more to do with the quality of life and the depth of our vision than it does with play and vacations. The rabbis taught that the purpose of Sabbath was threefold. The first purpose of Sabbath, the rabbis said, was to free the poor as well as the rich for at least one day a week, and that included the animals, too. Nobody had to take an order from anybody on the Sabbath. The second purpose of Sabbath, the rabbis teach, is to give people time to evaluate their work as God evaluated the work of creation, to see if their work, too, is really life-giving. And finally, the purpose of Sabbath leisure was to give people space, to contemplate the real meaning of life. If anything has brought the modern world to the brink of destruction, it must surely be the loss of Sabbath.

The purpose of holy leisure is to bring this balance of being, not a balance of time, back into lives gone askew, and to give people time to live a thoughtful, a contemplative as well as a productive life.… Holy leisure, in other words, is the foundation of contemplation. And contemplation is the ability to see the world as God sees the world.

The great Benedictine abbot, Dom Cuthbert Butler, wrote once, “It is not the presence of activity that destroys the contemplative life. It is the absence of contemplation.” You are as much required, and I am as much required, to the contemplative life as any cloistered monk or nun. Otherwise, how shall you explain the union of Jesus with God the Creator as He walked from Galilee to Jerusalem, taking animals out of ditches, raising women from the dead, and curing lepers? In Benedictine spirituality, life is not divided into parts, one holy and the other mundane. To the Benedictine mind, all of life is holy. All of life’s actions bear the scrutiny of all of life’s ideals and all of life is to be held in anointed hands. No, personal comfort, purposeless play, vacuous vacations, however rich, however powerful, have not saved the world. Ask the Romans. We need the wisdom of holy leisure now.

Joan Chittister
Trinity Institute Benedictine Spirituality Conference, 2003

So the young visionary Benedict required specified periods for manual labor, as well as for prayer and prayerful reading. Benedict was not about saccharine piety and theological niceties. Benedict set out to save the world by putting creative work and meditation, contemplation, on the very same level. To Benedict, work was always to be done with that vision in mind. Laziness and irresponsibility, oppression and exploitation, the oppressive, neurotic, insane production of goods of massive, even global destruction, and the ravishment of the planet are all, then, to the Benedictine mind, forms of injustice and thievery because they set out to tear the world down. They risk the tearing down of the world rather than its building up. Work is our gift to the world. It’s really work that ties us to the rest of humankind and binds us to the future. It’s work that saves us from total self-centeredness and leads to self-fulfillment at the same time. It’s work that makes it possible to give back as much as we take from life.…

The goal of life is to work and work and work because the world is unfinished and it is our responsibility to go on with it in creative ways. No, profit-making has not saved us. We need the wisdom of creative work now.

Joan Chittister
Trinity Institute Benedictine Spirituality Conference, 2003

'Getting things done' is necessary to life, but it is only one part of the experience of life. We need activity and accomplishment, but not at the expense of the loss of our own inner identity or the neglect of the relationships that are a part of making us more fully human, more fully alive. We need awareness and the presence of mind to keep soul-making and task-making in a healthy balance. … The problem of being over-committed is not a time issue;it is a spiritual issue. We find ourselves unable to step off the never-ending task treadmill because we are trying to apply a work/business model to an issue of the soul.

The dictionary definition of activity is: "an exertion of energy." Every human being can identify with that understanding of activity. We certainly know how we feel when we have exerted too much energy. We become depleted and exhausted. We then scurry about trying to find ways to create more energy in ourselves so that we can continue to perform and produce activity at an acceptable level. The folly of this strategy is that we never address the core issue of the soul—that of being participants in the great creative work of God.

Ideally, activity is not task-driven but inner directed. We are invited to "show up" at life and exert our energy in being astonished at the wonder of God, in becoming fully human and fully alive, and in being a part of the imaginative creative development of this enterprise called life. In other words, we were not created simply to complete tasks that could be checked off from a daily to-do list. We were created to " become" and to "participate."

—Renee Miller
Simplicity of Activity