31. Of Amusements and Recreations: what are allowable
We must needs occasionally relax the mind, and the body requires some recreation also. Cassian relates how S. John the Evangelist was found by a certain hunter amusing himself by caressing a partridge, which sat upon his wrist. The hunter asked how a man of his mental powers could find time for so trifling an occupation. In reply, S. John asked why he did not always carry his bow strung? The man answered, Because, if always bent, the bow would lose its spring when really wanted. “Do not marvel then,” the Apostle replied, “if I slacken my mental efforts from time to time, and recreate myself, in order to return more vigorously to contemplation.” It is a great mistake to be so strict as to grudge any recreation either to others or one’s self.
Walking, harmless games, music, instrumental or vocal, field sports, etc., are such entirely lawful recreations that they need no rules beyond those of ordinary discretion, which keep every thing within due limits of time, place, and degree. So again games of skill, which exercise and strengthen body or mind, such as tennis, rackets, running at the ring, chess, and the like, are in themselves both lawful and good.
Only one must avoid excess, either in the time given to them, or the amount of interest they absorb; for if too much time be given up to such things, they cease to be a recreation and become an occupation; and so far from resting and restoring mind or body, they have precisely the contrary effect. After five or six hours spent over chess, one’s mind is spent and weary, and too long a time given to tennis results in physical exhaustion; or if people play for a high stake, they get anxious and discomposed, and such unimportant objects are unworthy of so much care and thought.
But, above all, beware of setting your heart upon any of these things, for however lawful an amusement may be, it is wrong to give one’s heart up to it. Not that I would not have you take pleasure in what you are doing,–it were no recreation else,–but I would not have you engrossed by it, or become eager or over fond of any of these things