The Use of Recreation

The Use of Recreation

A Sermon by James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 27, 2008

Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring you a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts (Gen. 18:4,5)

Our text for today comes from the story in Genesis where the Lord appeared to Abraham and Sarah to confirm the covenant with them. Abraham had been called by Jehovah to travel to Canaan and beyond when he was a young man. Jehovah had shown him Canaan and promised that it would be the homeland of a great nation, and that his descendants would fill it. Abraham was then led to travel into Egypt, and other lands.

All the while he was becoming richer, he was also becoming older, but he had fathered no children. He must have wondered how the Lord would fulfil His promise of descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven as he and Sarah approached old age, childless.

Sarah, believing that she had passed the age of childbearing, gave Abraham her handmaiden, Hagar, so that she could obtain children through her. Ishmael was born to Hagar in Abraham’s 86th year. But the Lord had intended that the nation that He was to establish would come from Abraham and Sarah, and so in Abraham’s 99th year, the angel of the Lord came to visit Abraham in his camp.

Abraham invited Him to wash His feet, to rest, and to enjoy his hospitality. While Sarah was busy preparing a feast for them, The Angel told Abraham that Sarah was have a son. Sarah, overhearing, laughed at this prophecy, for she knew she had passed the age of childbearing. Thus, because she had laughed at the news, when their son was born, just as the Angel had promised, he was named “Isaac” which is Hebrew for “laughter.”

The covenant had been miraculously established. The Lord had shown His power and good faith. Now it was up to Abraham and his descendants to return that faith to the Lord by obeying the conditions of the covenant. And therein lies the story and the drama of the Jewish nation.

The reason for considering this text today is that it is an example of the importance of rest and recreation in our spiritual and natural lives. Abraham and Sarah had travelled many miles and had many adventures while following Jehovah. Through their experiences they had progressed from believing that Jehovah was one of the Chaldean idols, called “god Shaddai,” to believing that Jehovah was the most powerful of all the gods. More and more they had come to understand and accept the mission that they were called to perform, and on the way they had successively put off the false ideas and evil loves that they had originally had. In other words, we can see the steps of reformation and regeneration in the life and travels of Abraham and Sarah that culminated in the visit of the Angel and the subsequent feast in His honour.

This shows that rest and relaxation, feasts and entertainments, are an important part of our spiritual lives. We cannot be regenerated by the Lord without them, for they provide a balance and contrast that allows us to return to our occupations, uses, and spiritual growth with renewed vigour and enthusiasm.

The human mind does not just enjoy variety, but actually requires it to function properly. While we live in the natural world, we are primarily conscious in the rational degree of our mind. The word “rational” is from the root word “ratio” which means to compare one value to another. The rational mind functions by weighing one thought against another, by comparing their values, examining their differences. Without a variety of truths, the rational mind would first become bored, and eventually whither and die.

There is a similar situation in regard to vision. Although it is not a common experience among people who do not live in Arctic regions, it is true that people can become temporarily blind during white out conditions, when sky and land merge into an indistinguishable whiteness and the brain is no longer able to process information that is completely uniform. We need all kinds of visual cues to establish distance and scale, and if denied that information, the visual centres of the brain shut down. (This is different from the situation where one finds it hard to see when coming into the house after being out in very bright conditions for a while).

The brain works in a similar way to filter a steady noise out of the environment. Visitors often notice noises that long time residents no longer notice unless something calls their attention to it. They have become deaf to a noise that exists in their environment without variety.

The same kind of numbness can occur in the mind in every employment, no matter what it is. Even if the job itself requires quite a variety of activities, there is an affection the underlies every employment, and it strains the mind as it keeps it intent upon the subject of the work or study. If this affection and drive is not relaxed from time to time, the mind becomes dull, and the desire to work flags, as does the delight and satisfaction that is derived from the job. (See Charity 190)

Sometimes we allow ourselves to believe that our personal success, and the regard of others, depends on our being able to keep our “nose to the grindstone” and our “shoulder to the wheel” in spite of the minor inconveniences of the demands of our bodies to rest, to do something, anything, else. We feel guilty for every moment “stolen” from our work. The doctrines of the New Church make it quite clear that such guilt is misplaced, that in fact we are more useful to ourselves, to our families, and to our employers when we take appropriate opportunities to enjoy some variety in our life.

The recreations we choose correspond to the interior states of our affections and the physical needs of our bodies (See Charity 191). The interior quality of the various diversions varies according to the affection of charity that is in us that inspires those types of recreation (See Charity 192).

Provided that the affection of charity is within them, then virtually any form of recreation that stimulates the senses through variety, or a change of scene, serves the use of recreation. And, while involved in that recreation, the underlying love of use remains interiorly within the recreation. Without necessarily being conscious of it, the mind knows that this rest and recreation is actually serving the use that it resting from. While playing, the affection for the use of life is gradually renewed, and there is a sense that the time for play is done when the longing to return to the use signals that the state is complete. And the amazing thing that the Heavenly Doctrines reveal, is that those who love their use, and relax in order to return to their use invigorated are given an interior sense of pleasure in their relaxations that far exceeds the pleasure of one who seeks recreation and relaxation as an end in itself. (See Charity 193).

Having established the principles behind the use of recreation, the Heavenly Doctrines then go on to give a number of examples of the kinds of things that are good ways of giving the mind and body refreshment so that it can return to its primary uses refreshed. The following list is not meant to be all-inclusive, but merely to serve as examples of the kinds of things that refresh the mind. We are certainly free to add other, modern forms that abide to the principles set forth.

The first example given in the work on Charity is conversation with others on public, private, and economical affairs. We need look no further than the popularity of refreshments after church functions to see the truth in this.

The second category regards pleasures for the sense of sight, and includes such things as walks in cities in the sight of palaces and house, or in the country where trees, flowers, and animals can be observed. It also includes spectacles of various kinds which are representative of the moral virtues, and events where something of the Divine Providence shines forth. An exciting movie or play where good triumphs over evil is a form of recreation sanctioned by the doctrines, as is watching a sporting event, and seeing the fortunes of the teams as illustrations of the principles of the Divine Providence (See Charity 189).

The third category of recreation is things that give pleasure to the hearing such as various kinds of music which correspond to the affections and stir them, and also jokes and funny stories that exhilarate the mind — provided they are decorous (puns, stories that do not ridicule – the Latin word for laughter – individuals or groups)

The fourth category regards things that give pleasure to the other senses, such as banquets, feasts, and other entertainments. If the conversation at such a banquet regards many various domestic and civil subjects, but especially as these matters relate to the Church and its doctrines, and if the conversation proceeds with charity towards all, then the spiritual sphere is one of love to the Lord and the neighbour. It cheers the mind, and spreads a warm feeling of cordiality among the guests. Such was the sphere of the banquets and feasts among the early members of the Christian Church, and they were called “feasts of Charity” because the Lord was at their centre (See TCR 433).

Unfortunately, although it is the goal of our Church dinners, the doctrines tell us that such “feasts of Charity” are rare in our modern world, primarily because our interests and thus our conversations are seldom centred on the Lord. Instead, today the social conversations of friends has no other end in view than the pleasure of conversation itself, the intellectual exhilaration from the exchange of ideas, the expression of pent-up thoughts, and so forth (See TCR 434)

Other examples of good forms of recreation suggested by the doctrines are games played at home with dice, balls, and cards; dances at weddings and other festive gatherings; hobbies, or “labours of the hands” that give motion to the body, and divert the mind from the works of its calling; and finally the reading of books and newspapers (See Charity 189).

All the above has presupposed that the person enjoying the recreation is in charity, and does their work for the sake of the Lord and the use that it performs for others. The recreations of those who work only for the sake of their loves of self and the world refresh themselves differently. The doctrine of Charity teaches that, They rush into voluptuous pleasures, into drunkenness, luxury, whoredoms, into hatred, vindictiveness, and slander of the neighbour, if he does not do them honour. And if from time to time they are not raised to higher honoris, they come to loathe their employments, and give themselves up to leisure and become idlers; and after their departure from the world they become demons. (Charity 194)

The conclusion we must draw from these teachings is that sports and various other forms of recreation have been provided for our refreshment by the Lord, and like any other gift from the Lord, they are to be used wisely so that they are not abused. Sports and recreation are to be seen in their proper perspective:   When they are used to restore and invigorate the mind and body to prepare it to return to the use of life, they are in order and give great pleasure. They are not to be ends in themselves, but they are in order and delightful when they serve higher uses, allowing us to return to the use of our life refreshed and with renewed enthusiasm to serve the Lord and the neighbour each in our own unique way. AMEN

1st Lesson: GEN 18:1-8

Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. {2} So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, {3} and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favour in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. {4} “Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. {5} “And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.” They said, “Do as you have said.” {6} So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.” {7} And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it. {8} So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate. Amen.

2nd Lesson: Mat 11:28-30

“Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. {29} “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. {30} “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Amen.

3rd Lesson: Charity 190 – 191

  1. These are diversions for everyone who is in office or employment. They may therefore be called the diversions of offices or employments. But really they are diversions of the affections from which one engages in his employment. There is an affection in every employment, and it strains the mind, and keeps it intent upon its work or study. This, if it be not relaxed, becomes dull, and its desire flags, as salt that has lost its savour, so that it has no pungency or relish; or as a bent bow, which, unless it be unbent, loses the power that it derives from its elasticity. Just so the mind, kept from day to day in the same ideas, without variety. So the eyes, when they look only at one object, or continually upon one colour. For, to look continually at a thing which is black, or continually at red or at white, destroys the sight. Thus, if one looks continually at the snow the sight is destroyed; but it is enlivened if he looks in succession or at the same time upon many colours. Every form delights by its varieties, as a garland of roses of different colours arranged in beautiful order. Hence it is that the rainbow is more charming than the light itself.
  2. When the mind has been continually upon the stretch, at its work, it aspires to rest; and when it rests it descends into the body, and seeks there its pleasures, correspondent to its mental operations, which the mind chooses, according to its interior state in the viscera of the body. The interior things of the body derive their pleasures chiefly from the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, delights which are in fact drawn from outward things, but yet insinuate themselves into the single parts of the body, which are called members and viscera. From hence and from no other source have they their delights and pleasures. The single fibres, and single tissues of fibres, the single capillary vessels, and thence the common vessels, and so all the viscera in common, derive their own delights; which a man then perceives, not singly but universally, as one common sensation. But just as is the mind within them, from the head, such are the delights, pure or impure, spiritual or natural, heavenly or infernal. For within, in every sensation of the body, is the love of his will, with its affections; and the understanding makes him to perceive their delights.

For the love of the will, with its affections, constitutes the life of every sensation; and the perception thence of the understanding produces the sensation. Hence come all delights and pleasures. For the body is a connected work, and one form. Sensation communicates itself, like a force applied to a chain with its single links; and as a form which has been wrought together from uninterrupted links. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2008 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

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