We All Need Re-Creation

My legs feet were filthy, my shoulders felt like they were in a vice, my fingernails were chipped, and my knuckles were bleeding. I can't remember the last time I felt so good. 

Yep, it finally got warm enough for us to work in the yard last weekend, and I got to do something really wonderful: I made my hands work hard enough to shut up my brain. Using mainly a small spade and my bare fingers, I weeded out my old flower bed, tore up some grass to expand it, wrenched out all the new rocks that turned themselves up over the winter, airlifted many benevolent worms to a safer spot, broke up the moist clots of soil, ferreted out the mighty dandelion taproots, and smoothed everything down so it's fresh and tender and ready for planting. 

It was what we call "recreation" in its truest sense: re-creation, a re-making, a rebirth. It's awfully hard to find time to do things like this, but it's awfully important.  True recreation can take any number of forms: reading books, caring for pets, walking, playing sports, gardening, building, painting, restoring furniture, sewing, playing games, sitting around and talking with friends or family and a pitcher of beer. The basic idea is that it can be anything, even something exhausting, as long as it leaves you feeling replenished rather than deadened.

 True recreation isn't a waste of time; it's what enriches time. This is central to the Catholic understanding of the Sabbath. The puritans thought that they could only properly observe the Lord's Day with silent or subdued activities like spiritual reading or embroidery.  In fact, we can mark the day with all sorts of noisy, physical, strenuous things, as long as they aren't designed to get us ahead in the world. Any activity will do, as long as it's a retreat from the rest of the week, and helps make us ready for the new week. 

So, are we never allowed to just veg out? I hope not. Sometimes that really is the best I can manage. After a long day of dishes and carpools and struggles with an intractable laptop, I just want to put the kids in bed and install myself in an armchair, soaking up gin and scrolling through Facebook with one eye as I watch TV with the other. And this is fine. It's no sin to be tired!

But if this is the only way I ever spend my leisure time, week after week, there will be trouble. Mindless, senseless, thoughtless entertainment doesn't replenish us; it drains us. It doesn't restore us to our true selves; it makes it easier to keep barriers, obstacles, and soundproof walls between ourselves and what is true.

True leisure, true re-creation, is the enemy of the modern world, which always seeks to distract, rather than re-focus. There is money to be made if we blur the lines between work and play -- if we insist on always finding ways to make work fun and easy, and if we feel pressured to turn our leisure into profit, or to record and edit and archive every moment so as to build a life with a gorgeous, glossy panoramic view that is only a pixel deep.

I'm not swearing off my gin-and-Facebook evenings yet. But I'm working on seeking out activities that find that balance between mindless entertainment and the hustle for profit. It's something we all need.