To feel astonished is to be disturbed.

I only got a face mask last week, and this week I tied a piece of drapery cord to the ear loops, so that I can leave it hanging around my neck when I am not exactly “in public.” Otherwise, I might be fined $1,000 if I am discovered without it covering my face.

On this morning’s walk I never needed it, as I went earlier and on the southern creekside route that is less traveled. In some places honeysuckle escaped from a back yard and has climbed all over the trees along the bank:

I began to think again, as I have done so often throughout my life, about the verse,

The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Every time I muse it is from a new perspective, of course. Today I considered how king and happy are words with many levels and shades of meaning, and in our minds they live in a context that is rich with metaphor and our individual experience.

A child might think he’d like to be a king, and tell people what to do, and order his servants to bring him cookies or pizza whenever he wants. But we older and wiser ones think, How happy can a king be, anyway? What a job, being a king!! Too much work, right? I’m sure some kings (rulers) get into the business because they want to profit from it, but true happiness could never result from that motivation.

“The ‘whole good’ cannot be had, it would seem, without mustering all the strength of our inner life. Even in the sphere of external possessions there are goods which inherently demand, if they are to be truly ours, far more of us than mere acquisition. ‘My garden,’ the rich man said; his gardener smiled.” – Josef Pieper

A king who has nothing but leisure will not long be king. And the thought of leisure made me think on something else that I have returned to again and again, the title of Josef Pieper’s book: Leisure, the Basis of Culture. He presented it as five lectures in 1947. I have never read the book, I say to my shame. Until now, the title alone was evocative enough. I did get another book by Pieper which I have not finished reading, and right now I can’t find it on my shelves, either. But thanks to Goodreads I have been nourished this morning by excerpts from various of his books. (All the quotes in brown here are from him.) And I found a helpful review (I have read many such reviews) in case you’re interested, by James W. Schall: “On Pieper’s Leisure and Living Well.” This short explanation of Pieper’s idea of leisure is good, too: “It is not laziness, but rather an inner silence that enables one to see reality.”

But long before I got home, I continued to think about that book I haven’t read, as I walked up and down the path pictured at top. I didn’t want to continue up to the street and on my usual loop, because I knew there were many people walking on the pavement above; my own newly mown swath by the creek I didn’t have to share with another soul. It was my own little kingdom for a while. So I turned around and came back, and I did that three times altogether, which added up to about two miles.

I’m afraid I had gone back to thinking about work instead of leisure, giving a nod as I passed by, to the idea of culture. What about all the work I need to be doing in my kingdom of my house? We have completed the fast with its spiritual labors, its fitness training for the soul, and are reminded that we can live, especially during this Bright Week, “Renewal Week,” in the glorious light of the Resurrection. I know our priest said something last night or this morning, about what our focus should be, but I forgot already. The sun was shining this morning as is so appropriate on the mornings of Bright Week, so I took another screen shot of the church during the streamed Morning Prayers.

In spite of its being Bright Week, I was thinking about how as a king I could really use a few servants, in order to get my work done — even one servant! I’m sure the construction workers are all wishing they could get over here, too, and finish a few tasks that will liberate me to be a good steward over that part of my realm, and create culture, if you will.

But the kingdom of my soul…. it has servants enough, doesn’t it? My body, with its legs and arms, and mouth and brain. Even when we can’t do our usual kinds of work, we can bear the responsibility for our souls, by “strong activity” that Pieper describes:

“…Enduring comprises a strong activity of the soul, namely, a vigorous grasping of and clinging to the good; and only from this stout-hearted activity can the strength to support the physical and spiritual suffering of injury and death be nourished.”

Enduring, grasping, clinging… those sound sound like the realities of my days.

And he warns us: “Separated from the sphere of divine worship, of the cult of the divine, and from the power it radiates, leisure is as impossible as the celebration of a feast. Cut off from the worship of the divine, leisure becomes laziness and work inhuman.”

Those of us who know how to be thankful have the power to enjoy leisure and to escape boredom: “The vacancy left by absence of worship is filled by mere killing of time and by boredom, which is directly related to inability to enjoy leisure; for one can only be bored if the spiritual power to be leisurely has been lost. There is an entry in Baudelaire’s Journal Intime that is fearful in the precision of its cynicism: ‘One must work, if not from taste then at least from despair. For, to reduce everything to a single truth: work is less boring than pleasure.’”

Oh, poor Beaudelaire! By the gifts of God throughout my life I have eyes (hmm – more servants!) to see the beauty and glory around me and to know to Whom to give thanks. So I was ready when I saw one of these by the creek! It’s a Mourning Cloak. This is not my picture, but mine were good enough for my Seek app to help me identify it:

“Happiness… even the smallest happiness, is like a step out of Time,
and the greatest happiness is sharing in Eternity.”

The plague of coronavirus that seems to cover the earth is not the only plague that afflicts us, or the most ruinous one. That many humans are unable to obtain true leisure or to enjoy it, is a terrible disease. It seems worse to me than the true laziness I surely fall into.

I know that most people I talk to are feeling at loose ends at least occasionally these days, when it might be expected that we would be able to use all this extra time to accomplish more than we do. Are we lazy, or working? Something is going on in our souls, and I think that for me it may be partly attributed to this idea that Pieper sets forth:

“Wonder does not make one industrious, for to feel astonished is to be disturbed.”

I only pray that I will be disturbed in the right direction, toward Him Who fills all in all.

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!

21 thoughts on “To feel astonished is to be disturbed.

  1. Well, leisure would be wonderful. Most of the people I know are distressed by lack of work, lack of money, fear of losing family businesses, being unable to have medical procedures. A friend, in the middle of a course of chemotherapy, was denied access to her clinic because they were prohibited from continuing procedures. She ended up getting her treatment — in the middle of a parking lot.

    People have no idea how deep, or wide-ranging, or long-lasting will be the damage we are intentionally doing to our country. I fear there are as many people wearing blinders as masks.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Leisure, as I understand Pieper’s concept, is an attitude, a habit of mind – not a privilege. It is available to anyone who can take a moment or an hour to be receptive to gifts. Many stories tell of people in the worst circumstances finding happiness, “…like a step out of time.” I think of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the Gulag, or the Prophet Job. Here is another quote that applies:

      “When we really let our minds rest contemplatively on a rose in bud, on a child at play, on a divine mystery, we are rested and quickened as though by a dreamless sleep. Or as the Book of Job says, ‘God giveth songs in the night’ (Job 35:10). … And in the same way his great, imperishable intuitions visit a man in his moments of leisure. It is in these silent and receptive moments that the soul of man is sometimes visited by an awareness of what holds the world together.”
      ― Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture

      It’s right that parents should be concerned about how they will feed their children, and I appreciate your examples of people experiencing the hardship of uncertainty. But our futures have always been uncertain; I think we moderns just tend to think we can fix everything. Because of this pandemic we have many more people worrying about the future, and I don’t think anyone is immune. I also don’t think I can help other worriers by adding my worry to theirs. Those people who are out of work or money but are prevented from getting what they need also don’t need the whole day long to worry about it, and I am sure that many of them are finding true, “active leisure,” in what hours they manage to get distracted from their anger and anxiety, by the faces of their children, or the way the rose bush is blooming once again, even this spring.

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    2. Just re-read. So right. And the real danger in my safe isolation is to forget. Concern for loved ones and my own anxieties make me want to hide from the news. Personal stories, like your friend’s in the parking lot, bring out something better than fear. Thanks for that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Just moments before opening your post I had just finished watching an animated film of “Pilgrim’s Progress”. Beautifully done search for The King. Faith and Hope are waiting for Christian Pilgrim in the Celestial City! A very happy ending is there for us too. AND we are never alone on our journey ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What an interesting and contemplative piece to wake up to! Thank you for sharing your stirring thoughts – that is a lovely path you have to walk along – and the different perspective you present about leisure. I certainly find that while this virus is forcing a different lifestyle on all of us, there have been advantages to having to stay at home: a greater appreciation of where we live and what makes up our immediate environment; an awareness of our good fortune in having a garden, along with a greater empathy for those without (garden, job, food, adequate living space); a determination to keep busy along with the realisation that reading/knitting/writing/contemplating are all ‘legitimate’ activities. We sometimes drive ourselves too hard in our determination to squeeze everything out of each day.

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  4. I love this: “The plague of coronavirus that seems to cover the earth is not the only plague that afflicts us, or the most ruinous one. That many humans are unable to obtain true leisure or to enjoy it, is a terrible disease. It seems worse to me than the true laziness I surely fall into.”

    I know there are those who are struggling terribly and like many others, those who can try to help in ways we can (donations, supporting independent workers, etc.) and act with kindnesses. We absolutely must; it is our obligation as part of the human race. But I do think that those who are having the most trouble in quarantine for reasons that aren’t due to financial or other significant issues are those who don’t know how to enjoy themselves unless they are working. They’re the same ones who have issues in retirement, too. And I feel for them. Leisure isn’t necessarily an hour or an afternoon of idle time, it can be ten minutes to completely release — be in the garden, pet the cat, read a poem.

    I love the idea of the ribbon around the mask elastic. I tend to drop mine below my nose when no one is in sight or likely to be. That’s ok while it’s still cold and damp here, but when it’s warm it will wear thin! Thanks for that one!

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  5. Your beautiful post requires me to visit more than a couple times. There is so much to muse and chew on. Today I smiled at the line: “My garden,’ the rich man said; his gardener smiled.” – Josef Pieper.

    If wearing a mask is a must, at least that is a pretty one that you have there.

    I’ll be back… keep safe and well.
    Wishing you a beautiful day.
    Brenda xox

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I couldn’t say it any better than Anne did, so I’ll just add that I was caught by this, and could relate ( with a sympathetic and humble smile): “our priest said something last night or this morning, about what our focus should be, but I forgot already.”

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Yes, that is how I want to be disturbed, also! I like the name “Renewal Week” for the week after Easter – that’s how I need to look at it; I ate too many sweets last week, and it wasn’t a good balance. I’m glad you’re enjoying the Pieper quotes – I have the leisure book, and need to read it again.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reading those lines by R.L. Stevenson made me think of the poem Miracles by Walt Whitman. As we slow down and take each day with more mindfulness we can be astonished by all the miracles including all the kindness shown by people in this awful season of the Covid nightmare.

    I didn’t know masks were compulsory in Calif. When I wear mine ( as seldom as I do) my glasses fog up.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I am always taken aback (in a good way) by the depth of your writing. I truly think you should write a book. I have gone back and forth about how to respond to this crisis, because as one of your readers said I do not wish to put my head in the sand about the very real suffering people are and will experience as a result of the virus. But I know what you say to be true as well, that there is an inner reservoir of wonder in us (in our center where we connect to God) that is accessible to all. And that gives me hope.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. How can one comment on only one thing here? But for brevity’s sake I will just leave a comment on my first thoughts… in order !
    #1: He is risen indeed! I like what I am reading about your observance of Bright week (Renewal Week) in your church.
    #2: “Enduring, grasping, clinging” and I would add abiding. We must abide in Christ, and that is also a reality of our days, wouldn’t you agree?
    #3: Yet once again you have presented me with another deeper thinker in Josef Pieper.
    #4: The garden and leisure entries reminded me of Death Comes For the Archbishop, Father Latour…”In his retirement Father Latour’s principal work was the training of the new missionary priests who arrived from France. (next paragraph) “Father Latour’s recreation was his garden.”
    And also quoted in this text was a quote from Pascal, that Man was lost and saved in a garden.
    #5: I am thankful I am not required to wear a mask.
    I do not know how I would rate on succinctness in this comment, I tried.
    Blessings to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the reminder of Father Latour and his garden! When I get comments like yours it lets me know that we are truly in that Conversation about eternal things; I appreciate your taking the time to let me know what prompts and connections happened between us. 🙂 Please don’t try too hard to be succinct! I’m afraid you might leave out something good.

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  11. There’s a lot to ponder here, which is a good thing. I will think of this week as being, “Bright Week” and will remember the words, “My garden, said the king; the gardener smiled.” That’s a nice walk you had. I love a two-mile walk. I smiled when you mentioned your mown path, for I mow mine, or at least some parts of it, too.

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  12. I don’t understand the whole concept of boredom, lol. I never am bored. But I do find that in the midst of finding much to enjoy and do, if I think solely on the thing I’m doing, and leave God out of my little circle of activity, I soon find my enjoyment waning until I realize what I’ve done. The joy doesn’t return until fellowship with the Father has been restored.

    And there’s my little piece! 🙂 I have a headache, and deep thought is painful, ha ha. I just wanted to wave and let you know I was here. Thanks for your thoughts! Hugs from Minnesota!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I struggle very much with these ideas of leisure, rest, peace, meditation, work. I’ve found that the virus-times have made this part of me even more disordered. I struggle to rest within myself, to pray with peace, and yet another crushing piece of news today has sent me into a tailspin of brain fog. I’m certainly unproductive … but not in a peaceful way.

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