I write, speak, invest, network, and question to stimulate fruitful conversation. Let's talk about human flourishing! It begins with freedom. Holy leisure is the key to human being, freedom and generativity. Please join me in the adventure of realizing Christ!
This article first appeared in Gilbert Magazine.
I hope every Chesterton fan has a G.K.C. Christmas ornament. Mine reminds me to give glory to God ‘in profundis,’ per Chesterton’s Christmas poem, and also to ‘Be Spherical’.
Chesterton was ‘spherical’ in more than the obvious sense. To be spherical is to move freely in the vast sphere of your own being. This is the quality of being at ease with oneself that Josef Pieper (in Leisure, the Basis of Culture) called true leisure. In contrast to the worker, (dubbed ‘organization man’ by some, and ‘mass man’ by others) whose scope seems reduced to a flattened disc-world cut out of the middle of a sphere, the man at leisure with himself lives whole-ly in a much larger Reality.
This sense of the spaciousness of man’s true being collapsed with the Enlightenment ‘demise’ of God. Absent a Creator in whom he could live, move, and have being, man took up residence in the tiny space of his own mind, as a disembodied concept. He went right on serving his appetites, and wound up largely enslaved to them without the guidance of reason. Man now finds himself disintegrated, with no center to hold him in coherence.
The bad news is, man now has a greatly reduced capacity to appropriate that which can heal him. Medicine may do him as much good as a hamburger does a man with a tapeworm. The good news is that any movement toward his own freedom helps to knit him back together, and increases that capacity. It’s our job to attract him to return to himself, to come to his senses, to say yes to a freedom that may be terrifying to him. There is something wonderfully attractive about someone who dwells richly in, or fully inhabits his own being. He may also scare people. We’ve got to be ‘that guy,’ even if the flattened men around us hate us for it. To rescue the perishing, spherical human beings are needed – desperately.
Who makes you want to live larger, more boldly, with abandon? St. Francis, Chesterton himself, and Chesterton’s Innocent Smith affect me that way. King David, dancing before the Ark of the Covenant, comes to mind. For you, it may be Father Barron bearding the talk show host in his den, a tap dancing priest or singing nun, or an athlete with the guts to go for the glory or die trying. Whoever inspires you also invites you – not only to follow an example, but to find your own voice, passion, vocation, or yearning. As you grow, you become an inspiration – and an invitation to freedom – for others.
Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman said, “Therein lies the nobility of the Faith: that we have the heart to dare something.” Saint Teresa’s “Life is an adventure, dare it!” might be the anthem of spherical living. By your own free acts you expand the sphere of your freedom. The problem is, even we Christians are flattened to some degree. We can’t help but be affected by the persons and culture around us. We are pressured to conform to a subset of reality instead of to the whole of it – to fit our great spherical selves into very small, square holes and windowless bunkers.
How can you become the kind of enormous, authentic, venturesome being who lives abundantly in the glorious freedom of the children of God when you are also a small, fractured, fearsome creature of your times? How can you hold on to the spherical spaciousness of Self under the pressures of a world hostile to such a person? The answer is to get out of your attic and act! Fulton Sheen said, “Free will is a gift, but freedom is a conquest.” If the Promised Land is the beautiful territory of your own being, you’ll have some giants to slay to occupy it. In addition to moral virtue and the Presence of Christ, you’ll need skills, tools, and weapons to dwell there richly. Here are a few examples:
- You’ll need to be a Sabbath-keeper – not just a drive-through Eucharist taker, but a sit-down-restaurant, whole-day-of-leisure, buckets-of-leftovers Sabbath-keeper. Holy leisure is the key to human being because you’ve got to thoroughly appropriate Christ in order to become who you really are. Acedia is the disease of flat men, and Sabbath is the cure.
- You’ll have to stay standing in the midst of turbulence. Free people fight to occupy the via media – where they are assailed by winds, waves and words from both the easy extremes. Stay on the narrow way, where only Christ can keep you.
- Overcome your sense of separation between your adult self and the childlike qualities of a person animated by the playful and surprising Spirit of God.
- Enter into the practice of art, in some form. It should help you identify with God as an artistic Creator who wants His highest ideals placed into forms. As a plus, if you have very little skill, this will help cultivate humility, humanity, and a sense of humor in you.
- Be interested in many things, and then explore or study or discuss them. Don’t seek a disembodied, conceptual holiness, but cultivate a lively connectedness with all things real. Be attentive to and interested in your own real self, thoughts, desires, feelings, and needs.
- Try to have more and better conversations – challenging ones, stimulating ones, ones about great ideas and deep emotions, ones that are not derailed by knee-jerks and legalism, ones that begin with listening or research.
- You need life lived in community – celebration, shared meals, serving together, and conversation. It is characteristic of flattened men to believe they don’t.
There is one very simple formula for becoming spherical: “Grow up in all things unto Christ.” (Eph. 4:15) The best kept secret in the church may be that growing up is a thrilling adventure. Grown-ups who live it with childlike joy will attract others to the ascesis by which we help to make ourselves whole.