Leisure Spirituality: a book review

Chances are,  you think of leisure as ‘what you do for fun,’  and you probably don’t think it is particularly spiritual. However the concept of leisure is more comprehensive than just Candycrush. Through the centuries leisure has been thought of, variously, as: a state of being, a non-work activity, free time, conspicuous consumption, an optimal psychological experience, a meaningful experience, or holistically, reflecting all-of-life (6). Paul Hientzman explores contemporary thinking on literature and brings it into conversation with biblical spirituality arguing that leisure (and life!) reaches its fullest potential when sought in relationship with God.

Heintzman (Ph,D, University of Waterloo) is associate professor of leisure studies at the University of Ottawa and has extensive experience as a ‘recreation practitioner throughout Canada’ He co-edits the journal, Christianity and Leisure: Issues in a Pluralistic Society and is an Alumnus of Regent College, a place dear to my heart (MCS, 1986). In Leisure and Spirituality, Heintzman gives a comprehensive overview of biblical, historical and contemporary perspectives on leisure.

Heintzman’s book consists of six parts and an epilogue. In part one, he outlines contemporary thinking about leisure (including the seven concepts outlined above), In part two he examines the historical background to the concept of leisure, arguing that the classical greek, ‘state of being’ idea of leisure informed the concept of the via contemplativa and Christian monasticism championed by Roman Catholics. In general, the post-Enlightenment and Protestant idea of leisure, treated leisure as a ‘non-work activity’ and a reward for a job-well done. Part three steps back from this historical sketch and examines the biblical concept of leisure, especial through the related domains of a theology of Sabbath and rest, related concepts lie festivals, feasts, hospitality, dance and friendship, as well as passages that inform our concept of leisure. Part four unfolds the concept of work (in historic, current and biblical thought). Then in parts five and six Heintzman draws the various themes together and offers a Christian, theological perspective on leisure.

This is a rather impressive book. I have not read anything in field of leisure studies, and am grateful for the way Heintzman summarizes and synthesizes the various streams of thought. By bringing the Bible and Christian thought into conversation with leisure studies, he is able to show how Christianity offers a comprehensive, holistic theology of leisure that is rooted in God’s sovereignty. Heintzman synthesizes the insights of both the Classical/Catholic state-of-being concept of leisure, and the Protestant idea of leisure as a non-work-activity and sees biblical justification for both. These emphasize a qualitative and a quantitative aspect of leisure, respectively and each fits well with a theology of leisure:

a Christian holistic conceptualization of leisure has two dimensions: a qualitative and a quantitative. The qualitative dimension is the spiritual attitude and condition of being that reflects the quality of life available in Jesus Christ. The qualitative dimension is not limited to a certain time period, thus it may be experienced simultaneously with work; work may be conceived of as an expression of this attitude. The quantitative dimension of lesiure consists of certain times and activitives–ranging from silent contemplation to an active celebration in the gifts of creation–in which an intensification of leisure is experienced. Thus all of our lives should be characterized by a spiritual attitude of leisure, but at the same time our life should exhibit a rhythm of periods of work and periods of intense leisure. (210)

Heintzman also has wise words to say about how leisure contributes to spiritual well being and our ability to cope with the stress of life.

I think before reading this book, I would say I solely sought of leisure as a non-work, free-time activity. I would have allowed that some activities were healthy leisure, and others were not, but hadn’t thought particularly well or deeply on the concept of leisure. Heintzman enlarged my vision and helped me appreciate both the quantitative dimension (Sabbath and celebration) and the qualitative dimension (the joy of the Lord) of leisure. Moreover I enjoyed the book. I give this five stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book via Baker Academic in exchange for my honest review.

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