Athens, God and leisure


There are many ways to travel. With open and closed minds, with curiosity, a sense of adventure. Or we can travel as tourists, as people who change location but not their way of thinking, consumers of the “leisure industry.”

Basil the Great wrote about the phenomena of the “leisure industry” in Athens in the 4th century. I turned his passage into a poem after chatting to a couple tourists from the other side of the Atlantic. They decided to use their one day in Athens to go on a trip to the beach rather than visit the Acropolis… We can be in the middle of amazing glory, beauty,  energy, power, the centre of western civilization, art, science, ideas, the place from which Christianity spread, and we might not even notice it or want to.

But isn’t our relationship to God often like that? God, the Creator, the source of life, truth, energy, light is all around us, close to us. And we don’t even notice God. Our minds are absorbed with the Wall Street, with the Madison Avenue consumer and selfie culture. We are too busy to notice where we are or what our lives are really about.

Let’s not be tourists in our own lives. Let’s be participants, participants in something more than leisure, pleasure, money, consumerism. We can be participants in God’s great plans for our lives, filled with growth, spirit, creativity. We can use our “one day in Athens”, our short life span on this earth, to learn about life,  not to loll on the beach of life. Participation makes us fulfilled and happy whereas mere leisure can leave us empty and frustrated.

Leisure

Side streets
crowd around the Acropolis.
Crowded minds,
filled with thoughts of pleasure,
leisure, time out
from the thorns of work,
the thistles of family,
the stones of business,
with not a break
for a ray of light
between the shadows,
can miss the high citadel altogether.
Minds in constant movement,
never moving to the one true thing
chasing shadows
in well known circles
at the foot of the one eternal thing.
The darkness is deepest
around the brightest heights.

And the passage by Basil the Great…

BASIL THE GREAT: To the extent that we take our leisure in matters apart from God, we cannot attain knowledge of God. For who, concerned over the things of the world and immersed in fleshly distractions, can pay attention to discourses concerning God and measure up to the rigid discipline of contemplations so long and great? Don’t you see that the Word that falls among thorns is choked by the thorns?7 Now the thorns are fleshly pleasures and wealth and glory and cares of this life. The one who seeks knowledge of God must become separated from all these things, and, being at leisure apart from passions, thus receive the knowledge of God. For how can contemplation about God enter a mind crowded by thoughts that preoccupy it? Even Pharaoh knew that being at leisure is proper to the search for God, and for this reason he mocked the Israelites, “You are idling about, you men of leisure, and you say, ‘We will pray to [NT Vol. V, p. 216] the Lord our God.’”8 While this leisure is good and profitable for the one in leisure as it brings peace for the reception of the Savior’s teachings, the leisure of the Athenians was evil, since “they devoted their leisure to nothing more than saying or listening to something new.” HOMILY ON PSALM 45.9

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