My daughter and I have a custom on Saturdays: when my wife goes to ballet class, we watch Planet Earth. We find it mesmerizing. True, my three-year old doesn't express her mesmerization for as long a period of time as I do, but there's something to be said for the fact that she watches a documentary for over an hour every week!
The root menu of the DVD is a satellite picture of Earth. Nearly every week my daughter sees this before I press the play button on the remote and says, "Papa, I want to go there. I want to go to planet Earth." With a chuckle, a smidgen of superiority, but much appreciation for the wonder and naïvety, I assure her that we are there—we are on planet Earth.
But in one sense, we often aren't on planet Earth.
Our experience of the world often entails a manipulation of its novelty. We lose the joy of work after a number of years. We expect our spouses to accept and care for us. We discipline our children without a flinch. Meanwhile, it wasn't long ago that we we were lying awake in bed unable to compose ourselves because tomorrow was our first day on the job. It wasn't long ago we had butterflies in our stomach when we were on that first, second, or third date. It wasn't long ago when we cried after we disciplined our child for the first time.
There is a sense in which our experience of the world—our only access to it—can cause us to no longer live within it. Through our experience we transcend the world. We objectify it. We understand it. We control it. It becomes normal. In a profound, but at the same time disturbing sense, its normality causes us to step outside of it. It no longer carries an enchanted sensibility about it. The surprise is exhausted. The world becomes something we no longer live within, just in. Fascinating, isn't it? The very instrument God gave us to experience his world is the very instrument that can make us numb to it.
We should stay aware of this.
How do we experience old things anew? How do we appreciate the things that we already know, that we already have been given? How do we retrieve the joy, the butterflies, and the flinches?
By rest, I don't mean sleep. I mean relaxation. Time to reflect. Neuroscience draws our attention to the importance this has for the proper functioning of the brain. Our brains need rest. We cannot process, understand, or remember without rest. It is through rest that our brains are strengthened. Likewise, as the great Christian mystic Ignatius of Loyola pointed out, our spirits need rest. It is through this rest that our relationships with God are strengthened. His "examen" encourages us to take time to reflect on where God was in our days, weeks, and years.
To experience God, we must be still (Psalm 46:10). To experience God's creation, we must rest (Genesis 2:2).
Rest requires what the Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper called "leisure"—a notion he pulled from Aquinas who plundered it from Aristotle. What all of these thinkers were after was free time in order to relax and rest. We need time to consider and contemplate in order that we can experience anew. The irony of all this, as neuroscience indicates and Ignatius was attuned to, is that through our rest we become more productive and effective. We labour to rest, and rest to labour.
Leisure doesn't have to mean taking time off from work. But to a certain extent it must mean taking time within work to reflect on that work. This is a discipline that takes time to cultivate. No pun intended, it takes time to find time. We can't appreciate God's world without taking the time to think on our experience of it, and with that, how we sometimes aren't really experiencing it.
Out of the mouth of babes. On second thought, I, too, want to go to planet Earth.