T. S. Eliot characterizes modern life as having “neither plentitude nor vacancy,” and goes on to say that our lives are “distracted from distraction by distraction.” The truth is that the world is perennially too much with us. We’re always in danger of getting and spending and giving our hearts away, of trading our glimpses of Proteus rising from the sea for glimpses of the latest social-media craze. We have grown so used to our distractions that we have nearly forgotten what leisure is, that divine and gratuitous part of human existence that ennobles life and causes us to pause and reflect, pray and praise, fast as well as feast.
This is why the Scriptures give us the story of Mary and Martha. We can be like Mary, who chose to be still and present for the most important thing. Or we can be like Martha, who chose instead to worry about earthly things and was admonished for her unwillingness to rest. Now, however, it seems there is almost no choice left at all, and we have nearly forgotten what it means for our souls to give attention. Even in our schools and churches—which should be the seats of contemplation—there is little place for the free and “useless” delight of the Transcendent and Divine.
In this work, Devin O’Donnell seeks to frame a philosophy of academics rooted in leisure, one that sees school as scholé in principle and practice. If we are to be faithful with the inheritance of a liberal arts tradition, then we must return to seeing leisure as a guiding light in our educational efforts.