Thursday, 15 October 2009

Leisure & guilty pleasures!

I’m extremely grateful to one of my brothers in SSC who recommended to us in Chapter earlier in the year the works of Josef Pieper. I am ashamed to admit that I had never read anything of his before Easter of this year - so much for a rounded theological education! At the moment I’m reading “Faith, Hope, Love,” but in his work "Leisure, the Basis of Culture", Pieper discussed the link between the growth of culture and the existence of a class of people who have sufficient leisure to contribute to the development of the values of a civilisation.

I can’t be alone in remembering when I was growing up the forecast that the western world was headed for a technology-driven leisure society in which the greatest question facing us in the future would be what we were going to do with all the free time at our disposal. Reality kicked in during the global recessions of the 1980s and 90s and the “leisure society” was heard of no more. Recent proposals to increase the retirement age in Britain in the wake of our latest economic crisis have finally consigned the idea to that overflowing dustbin of social predictions which have never come to pass.
For most people these days leisure is at a premium. Apart from the affluent retired who fill their time with university courses, the activities of the U3A and foreign holidays (good luck to them – this is not a criticism!), most of my parishioners here who are in full-time employment simply have no time for anything very much outside their very demanding jobs and equally demanding family commitments. Expectations are very high, and joining community organisations, much less setting aside the time for regular worship, simply isn’t on the agenda. For that reason alone it was good on Sunday at our once monthly Family Mass to see some new faces among the parents of the Sunday School children.
In the countryside particularly, the leisure hours of many middle class parents are increasingly taken up with ferrying their children to one urban-based activity after another. The pressures of this frenetic, non-stop employment and family lifestyle can be very great, leaving precious little time for the reflection, recreation, prayer and worship which we all need for our health and well-being, not only as individuals but as a society. It’s not surprising, then, that, in contrast to the parts of rural France I know well, there is a lack of that sense of close-knit community, shared interests and common values which goes to make up a cohesive and truly civilised society: atomisation is the order of the day.

One of the things we all need – particularly in our curious modern culture which somehow manages to combine the puritanical and the hedonistic in hitherto unexplored ways – is time occasionally to do nothing at all, to take a leisurely walk, meet up with friends and family, read a trashy novel or watch really terrible television.
My own guilty pleasure over the last few years has been reading Harry Potter (I saw the latest film adaptation on the cross-channel ferry coming back from France at the end of the summer). The plot of the stories makes them exceptionably readable, even if the author's prose style is nothing to write home about. The revised comments from the Vatican about the Harry Potter oeuvre being a intensely moral tale about the struggle between good and evil are much closer to the mark than the somewhat knee-jerk and over-literal reaction from some quarters about encouraging the occult and witchcraft. In any case, being a somewhat unrepentant medievalist (or do I mean 19th century romantic? I'm not sure.) I’m not convinced that superstition is always such a wholly bad thing; anything which might help to undermine in the lives of the young the prevailing rationalistic, one-dimensional view of the world has quite a lot to be said for it. I might prefer society's 're-enchantment' to come in a more overtly Christian and Catholic form, but every little helps in preparing the ground for the sowing of the seeds of faith. In this case “he who is not against us is for us.”
As to witchcraft and the occult, in this part of the British countryside no one has the time!

This is Mitchell & Webb's take on Harry Potter _ "Welcome to Hufflepuff!"

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