The opposite of acedia (“despair in weakness” or what we might term “depression”) is not the industrious spirit of the daily effort to make a living, but rather the cheerful affirmation by man of his own existence, of the world as a whole, and of God – of Love, that is, from which arises that special freshness of action, which would never be confused by anyone with any experience with the narrow activity of the “workaholic.” (Taken from Leisure: The Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper)
I have decided to lead a reading/discussion group on Pieper’s sixty page essay, Leisure: The Basis of Culture this fall semester at the Catholic Center as part of our faith formation opportunities. This essay, I believe, can change the way one views the world and how one lives life. In this essay, Pieper offers an important commentary and corrective to trends present in our current cultural climate and a needed voice that our young people, especially, need to hear.
I believe that this essay is also valuable for anyone who is open to discerning God’s call in life. In fact I highly recommend it. Of specific importance is Pieper’s distinction (gained from ancient and medieval philosophy) between ratio and intellectus. Ratio (Pieper points out) is the “power of discursive thought” – it is intellectual work, what we can deduce and arrive at by our own power and effort. Ratio is important, through the effort of human intellect we have achieved and continue to achieve much but ratio is not the only game in town. Intellectus is also a form of knowing. Intellectus “refers to the ability of ‘simply looking’ to which the truth presents itself as a landscape presents itself to the eye.” Intellectus can be described as, “Listening-in to the being of things.” The crux of the problem, which Pieper points out, is that in our modern world, for a variety of reasons, we have reduced all forms of knowing to ratio and, in the process, have shuffled intellectus to the fringes if not to out-right disdainment.
Thomas Merton once observed that American society is a society that is neither conducive to nor encouraging of the contemplative life. I would agree and I would also say that if we are anything we are a nation of engineers – we like to figure things out and we are pretty darn good at it. But “full knowing” is both ratio and intellectus. An over-emphasis on either one without the other limits us, limits life and limits society.
Yes, in discerning God’s movement in ones life there is work to be done (ratio) but, more fundamentally, there is the need of “listening-in to the being of things” (intellectus). Here it does us well to take a cue from our Lord’s response to Martha’s complaint – while she bustles about – as Mary sits content at his feet (Lk. 10:38-42). “Martha, Martha you worry and are troubled about many things (an apt description of life lived solely in ratio), whereas only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her.”
In discerning God’s movement in life do the work but also learn how to listen-in to the being of things – ratio and intellectus.