On Not Doing Anything
Very sorry for the big lull, readers; for the past week, I’ve been absorbed with doing not very much. Yes, that’s right: no Internet connection, not checking your phone for days on end, with my family hidden deep in a forest. Wildlife, sports, leisurely meals, lots of family time.
Since the gap, I also have a lot to share with you from our Triduum, but more on that later.
I’m not promoting idleness, but a break from schedules, early alarm clocks, planning and productivity can do wonders for being human, don’t you think?
When Blessed John Paul II was bishop of Kracow in 1962, he gave a retreat to university students. It is a deeply inspiring series of meditations. One of the first talks speaks of how, in life, there are things of relative importance and things of absolute importance. We ourselves can experience being of relative importance: we discover after doing something well in our work that we are esteemed one day, then passed over the next. When in the middle of an important project, it takes on the status of absolute importance only to be largely forgotten about a few months down the line.
Only in prayer do we discover the one thing that is of absolute importance. When we go on retreat, we engage in the one thing of absolute importance: ourselves in relation to God.
The then Karol Wojtyla put it like this:
“There is no gathering in which each one of us is more wholly himself and has a fuller sense of his own selfhood and his own absolute importance than he has here [on retreat].”
Holidays are similar, I find. Within our families, we are cherished for who we are, not what we can achieve. In relaxing, we rediscover our identity formed in relation with those we love. Being together with no rushing, no deadlines, no using of relationships for our own ends, in some way recreates us. After all, who are we but the relations that we have with others?
Holidays, as well as moments to be together, also need to give us moments of no rushing, no deadlines, with our Creator. He is the One who makes us new. I think sometimes that if I come back to London after a holiday feeling pampered and indulged, but no closer to Him, what’s the point?
Finally, GK Chesterton thought that doing nothing was a “rare and precious” thing. Here is what he writes in his Autobiography:
When given the gift of loneliness, which is the gift of liberty, [such men who do not appreciate the freedom of having nothing to do] will cast it away; they will destroy it deliberately with some dreadful game with cards or a little ball. I speak only for myself; I know it takes all sorts to make a world; but I cannot repress a shudder when I see them throwing away their hard-won holidays by doing something. For my own part, I never can get enough Nothing to do.
He probably wouldn’t have approved of our canoeing this week, but definitely sitting around the table after lunch Doing Nothing.