Work in the Spirit 17

imgresWhat is the relationship between work and leisure?

In the past, “much of Christian tradition over the centuries subordinated work to leisure.”  In modern times, both in theory and in practice, leisure has been subordinated to work.

The proper approach, according to Miroslav Volf in Work in the Spirit, is to not subordinate one to the other.  There is “no hierarchical ordering of charisms that corresponds to ‘spiritual’ tasks, on the one hand, and to ‘secular’ tasks on the other.”  “If God’s Spirit inspires people both to work and to worship without systematically preferring either one or the other, then both work and worship must be fundamental activities of human beings that cannot be subordinated to each other.”  Volf quotes Nicholas Wolterstorff: “rhythmic alternation between work and worship, labor and liturgy is one of the most significant distinguishing feature of a Christian’s way of being-in-the-world.”

What is leisure for?  Volf has a traditional answer: “the Sabbath commandment for the first time in history interrupted work with regular periods of rest,” and thus “liberated human beings from enslavement to work.”

He goes further: the very existence of the Sabbath commandment “presupposes that people can meet their basic needs without having to forego leisure.”  So, according to Volf, the very existence of this right to leisure implies there is a “corresponding right to sustenance for all those who are willing to work ‘six days a week.’”  In other words, if someone is unable to meet his basic needs for sustenance by working “six days a week” — does Volf mean this literally or figuratively? — and thus is forced to work all the time without rest for his basic needs, his right to leisure has been violated, and the system must be changed.

This, I think, is a part of what Volf means when he said his pneumatological theology of work does not privilege status quo the way a vocational theology of work tends to.