Thinking about leisure

Mind and Soul

July 27, 2023 | Opinion | Volume 27 Issue 15
Randy Haluza-DeLay | Columnist
Randy’s touring bike. (Photo by Randy Haluza-Delay)

It’s summer and many of us have thoughts about vacations and so-called down time. What do these things mean for your spiritual practice?

Knowing that I was about to launch into a 12-day bike tour, someone suggested I write about leisure and Christian spirituality. Someone else suggested that 12 days on a bike saddle would certainly not be leisure. Yet another person rather strongly suggested that riding my bike for nearly two weeks was a waste of time. I even received some scriptural proof-texting about “to whom much has been given, much is expected.” Clearly the implication was that this type of leisure, or maybe any leisure, was not in keeping with Christian discipleship.

No point arguing with that point of view. I won’t bother mentioning that some of the hours spent in repetitive pedalling are even prayerful. I also play games as I ride, waving my arms like an airplane, counting the different bird species I hear along the way, saying “howdy!” to every person going the opposite direction. To be honest, there’s maybe too much time with my own thoughts.

Once upon a time, I used to teach in a university-level recreation and leisure studies program. Leisure is surprisingly complicated. Frankly, I think everybody needs to learn to play; somehow as we mature we lose the innate playfulness of our early years. In fact, one notion of human nature is that of homo ludens—the playing ones. That beats thinking we are the wise ones (homo sapiens), despite the lack of supporting evidence.

One concept of leisure is to frame it in contrast to work, specifically including both paid and unpaid work. That acknowledges the gendering of both work and leisure, since domestic labour is usually undervalued or not valued at all. Still, this way of thinking does not define leisure by what it is, but by what it is not.

Leisure can also be conceptualized as activities, which is equally problematic. Early in my married life I learned that my wife did not consider going to the playground with our little children as leisure, like I did. For her, it was yet another extension of care-giving and domestic labour.

This example shows that “leisure” has meanings that differ among people. Is going to church or volunteering for community groups leisure?

Other conceptualizations of leisure relate to joy, pleasure or other emotions, or how the activities and feelings may become part of our self-understandings. We probably all know people who could learn a thing or two about playing.

In a Christian context, leisure is often framed in the context of the creation story and the Sabbath: “On the seventh day God rested.” This has been used to legitimize a day of rest (good), and legalistically regulate the activities of the day (not so good). In fact, leisure has often become labelled as sinful in that framework.

In a capitalist context, leisure and vacations have been justified as beneficial for the increased productivity of workers. Leisure/Sabbath/holidays/vacation are fundamental to recuperation/rest/recovery so that workers can perform better when they return. Zoinks!

Most definitely, I do not want to frame what we humans do in terms of productive or non-productive. These conceptualizations point to the need to reflect also on the nature of the human being. Could there be something about play, recreation and leisure that is fundamental to our human nature? Ponder that this summer, but do so leisurely, of course.

Randy Haluza-DeLay lives in Toronto and can be reached at

Randy’s touring bike. (Photo by Randy Haluza-Delay)

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Update: The 12 days turned into 13 days. Toronto to NYC. Got a 24-hour flu and cycled through flood waters. It was great, especially with a good companion!

Another great column. It raises important questions about how we socially understand leisure. There’s the sense that leisure is the privilege of those who can afford it. Instead, we should consider whether we can afford not to value our health and spirituality by taking time off and participating in leisure activities.

I really liked this one, Randy. Of course I have opinions on many of the aspects that you touch on. I suspect that you just touch on them as to get the reader to consider them.

I think full examination would require, well, a book. A long trip such as the one you just completed is a marvelous opportunity for contemplation, be it inward or outward. I find mountain biking to be similar to meditation in that while you are participating in the activity you are not really thinking at all; it's your mind and body simply reacting.

Randy raises some important social questions about leisure and the importance of play to human enjoyment.

'Being in' nature through biking, hiking, swimming or simply walking outside reconnects us to nature, which is a good thing in and of itself.

Regaining play may bring more joy into our lives as we face some of the serious issues of modern society.

A fun and thought-provoking read, Randy. The connection between leisure and spirituality is an interesting one. Arguably, workaholism offers little room for contemplation of the Divine. I would have loved to read your thoughts on the link between Christian contemplative traditions (or that of other spiritual paths, including meditation retreats) and concepts of leisure.

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