Our education in leisure

“We have come to accept compulsory military service in peacetime for the sake of national security. Am I too bold in suggesting the idea of compulsory adult education in leisure time for the sake of spiritual security?” — Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

How do you spend your leisure?

I love this question.

If having a full pantry is how people prepare for a pandemic physically, then what are the means by which people prepare for a pandemic (or any crisis) spiritually? How do we fill our souls? 

And leisure, as Josef Pieper reminds, “is not a Sunday afternoon idyll, but the preserve of freedom, of education and culture, and of that undiminished humanity which views the world as a whole.”

Tonight I was delighted to rekindle my book club of Jews and Christians who read Abraham Joshua Heschel together. We convened over Zoom, of course, and focused on the chapter “Children and Youth” from Heschel’s book The Insecurity of Freedom

Here are some of the gems — particularly striking in our current situation: 

“What we need are not only more school buildings and more playgrounds, but also the restoration of the home, the resurrection of the parent as a person worthy of being revered, as an example of devotion and responsibility.” 

“There is no hope for the survival of humanity unless we realize the absurdity of man’s false sense of sovereignty as well as the fallacy of absolute expediency. Some of us may find it difficult to believe that God created the world, yet most of us find it even more difficult to act as if man had not created the world.”

“We prepare the pupil for employment, for holding a job. We do not teach him how to be a person, how to resist conformity, how to grow inwardly, how to say No to his own self. We teach him how to adjust to the public; we do not teach him how to cultivate privacy.” 

“There is no sense of responsibility without reverence for the sublime in human existence, without a sense of dignity, without loyalty to a heritage, without an awareness of the transcendence of living.”

One of my favourite observations by Etty Hillesum, a Dutch Jewish woman who was killed in Auschwitz, is: “Like circumstances do not yet seem to produce like people.”

And, as Rainer Maria Rilke says: “If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories?”

How do we spend our leisure?

What is our preserve of freedom, of education, and culture?

Do we cultivate a repository of immaterial existential riches?

And, do we know what’s in our treasure house of memories?

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