CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - In our last article on leisure entitled "The Recovery of Leisure," we addressed the concept of "total work" and how it flipped the relationship between work and leisure or rest. Insidiously, like a horrible virus, this notion of "total work" infiltrated not only labor itself, but also the intellectual life and even our notion of time. Part of what is needed to reclaim leisure or rest includes regaining the mind and redeeming the time from the corruption of "total work."
With respect to how "total work" affected the mind, we must start with tradition. Traditionally, human knowledge was seen as composed of two distinct ways of thinking, one active and discursive (called ratio), the other receptive and intuitive (called intellectus). This latter form of knowledge was viewed as a sort of intellectual vision or seeing. It was a knowledge gained by "merely looking" as the philosopher Josef Pieper expresses it. It was a sort of gazing, a sort of intellectual grace.
The notion of intellectus is perhaps most beautifully captured in a fragment of the pagan philosopher Heraclitus which Pieper translates as the "listening-in to the being of things." This form of knowledge was viewed as approaching angelic and divine thought. Prior to the Reformation and Enlightenment, it was highly prized by philosophers and theologians both.
As part of his great so-called "Copernican revolution" of philosophy, the Enlightenment giant Immanuel Kant rejected any sort of intellectual vision, any Heraclitean "listening-in to the being of things." "The understanding cannot look upon anything," scoffed Kant. All thinking for Kant was hard labor, and all thought was acquired or produced as if it were a gidget or gadget. Thinking was gained only by hard intellectual effort applied to raw concepts, like a tool and die maker making a mold out of raw steel.
In Kant, the notion of "total work" had crept into his head, and there it took root as if it were a cancer. And where the notion of "total work" crept in, there was only room for activity, and no room for receptivity. Intellectual grace was no longer admitted into thought's realm. Kant's intellectual cancer killed half the human brain, and the better half at that.
Kant might be called the Pelagius of the intellect. The monk Pelagius, of course, believed we could be saved by self-effort since there was no such thing as original sin, and this made grace superfluous, unnecessary. Similarly, Kant's concept of the intellect was one where there is no need for grace, just self-effort.
When everything is built upon self-effort, we become hardened, and develop what Pieper calls a "stoniness of heart," an intellectual quality of "not-being-able-to-receive," and indeed not being able to play. Kant was not known for playing. One not able to receive and not able to play will find it impossible to celebrate, and celebration is at the heart of the divine liturgy. This means we will not be able to worship God, much less become enraptured by Him.
The ability to contemplate is at the heart of the intellectus; it is not discursively achieved, but is achieved passively by the "leisure of contemplation," the otium contemplationis. This sort of thought is more like play. It is a participation in the Divine Wisdom which, in St. Thomas Aquinas's words who loosely cites Proverbs 8:30, "plays all the time, plays throughout the world." To be homo sapiens, one must be homo ludens. This is a truth we have forgotten, and which we must regain.
The notion of "total work" not only changed beliefs about contemplation and intellect, it also changed the concept of time. Here it is important to understand that the Greeks distinguished between two kinds of time: chronos and kairos.
Kairos was a sense of time which had a sense of opportuneness. It was a qualitative notion, and had an air of indeterminacy, measured by events: the time for harvest (cf. Matt. 21:34), the time for figs (cf. Mark 11:13).
Chronos, on the other hand, was quantitative, determinate, discrete. It is the concept we are most familiar with: the sequential, the tick-tock of the clock.
The term kairos was used in the New Testament to refer to that opportune time, the fullness of time, when God acts. Kairos is the concept of time invoked by Jesus when he first announces the Gospel. For example, in Mark 1:15, Jesus proclaims, "The time [ho kairos] is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel." This notion of time is imported into the Eastern liturgy when the deacon proclaims to the priest invoking the words of Psalm 118 (119): 126: Kairos tou poiesai to Kyrio, "It is time for the Lord to act."
The notion of kairos is entirely gone from modern life. Chronos reigns supreme. We work off schedules. We punch time clocks. We confront deadlines. We are impatient when time does not conform to us. We hate waiting. We want things now, not necessarily when it is right. We idolize regularity.
The Gospel sees things differently, and it tells of a Truth which is intended to set us free. (John 8:32) "For freedom Christ set us free." (Gal. 5:1) The Gospel if we allow it to bear fruit frees us from activity. It frees our intellect. It redeems our time.
The narrative of Martha and Mary, the sisters of his friend Lazarus is the place to turn to for instruction. (Luke 10:38-42) Christ, one might remember, decides to stay at the home of Martha and Mary. How do the two hostesses respond to the divine guest? In their response, they are types for us. One type to avoid. The other type to follow.
Martha, in her effort to make Christ welcome, becomes preoccupied with many things. Martha is activity for activity's sake. Martha is the active life. She is a type of ratio. She is stuck in chronos. She is "total work." And in her busyness, she passes right by Christ, and even chastises him through Mary. Martha was like the harried young postulant who was stopped by Blessed Jeanne Jugan, foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and was told she was leaving God behind in her great hurry. Martha was a modern woman, and she was leaving God behind. In such a state, Martha could not worship. To worship, one must first rest. "Be still (scholasate) and know that I am God." (Ps. 45:10 [46:11]).
Mary is so different from Martha. She is not modern. Almost heedless to her responsibilities, Mary is preoccupied with just one thing: the divine guest before whose feet she sat. She is contemplation. She is a type of intellectus or "listening-in to the being of things." She is being schooled by Christ. She is being still (scholasate) and hence knows God the way God must be known. She is at worship. Time for her is kairos.
We must be like Mary if we are to regain our mind and if we are to redeem the time. This is at the heart of the Gospel: we must be still-at leisure, at rest-and then, and only then, shall we know God. And God is the purpose, the end, of everything, including work and rest. In the contemplation of being, especially Being, we will regain our mind and we will redeem the time.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at email@example.com.
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