“Major events seldom happen all at once or in a vacuum. There are ripples that come first, then waves, so that when the actual event does arrive, even if it’s a surprise, it is usually easy to look back and see that things had been moving in that direction for some time. In early 2000 I knew I wanted to build a school. But how? In February of 2009 Linda and I went down the coast of California for a long drive to Hearst Castle. On the way, we talked about what this school would look like. We had used the classical model in homeschooling our youngest two sons the prior five years. Our guide was A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille. We discussed and wrote down the principles we had used in home education of classics, mentors, simulations, mission and Providence and how we could implement them in a public-school setting. We both had ample experience with both systems. We discussed the book at great length. I drove, and Linda took key notes. In a few hours we outlined what had taken us a decade of preparation to design. The form of John Adams Academy was conceived on our drive down the California coast that day.”—Dr. Dean Forman, John Adams Academy: Leading a Revolution in Education
On that day, one that would turn out to be momentous for me and Linda, what could have been seen as leisure in the sense of pleasure or fun was leisure in the truer sense or meaning of the word.
So what then does the word leisure mean, exactly?
Leisure is Learning
Leisure in Greek is skole, and in Latin scola, and English school. Our leisure time is meant to be used to educate ourselves in the principles of felicity, bliss, and joy instead of leisure that is focused on pleasure, fun and entertainment. Leisure, then, is what we do with our spare time. For a life to be abundant and flourish requires contemplation, perhaps more than anything. Leisure comes from the Latin cardo-cardinal, or “hinge” virtues. Those hinge virtues are wisdom, courage, justice and temperance. They are the virtues of character and the virtues of mind of speculative and practical wisdom.
Happiness and Virtue
The word for happiness in Greek is eudaimonia which means “having a good spirit.” A “good spirit” or moral virtue is not natural or unnatural, but is a habit that must be acquired by repetition of good choices until it is internalized and harmonized into character or Providential destiny. It is related to being rational and possessing a common sense of right and wrong. The activity of reason is contemplative. It is found in choosing the golden mean in virtues over the excess. Any virtue taken to the extreme can become a vice or even a detrimental character trait.
The virtuous person acquires moral virtues by developing habits after careful deliberation and repeated actions of excellence. Each of us is subject to an effectual moral struggle as we go through our lives. In addition to our outward actions, virtues of the mind are also necessary to experience full and complete happiness. Habits of the mind are exhibited in seeking wisdom, truth, and judgment. Aristotle teaches us that contemplation surrounds the following areas:
- Science — Seeking the knowledge of how effects are linked to causes or choices we make.
- Art — “Techne” is the habit of knowing how to do or how to make things, create or fabricate.
- Wisdom — Seeking the habit of practical wisdom to ensure the ends of an abundant and joyful life.
The journey of joy must include finding friends of virtue, character or excellence that go far beyond friendships of pleasure or utility. It is found in the nobility of doing the right thing for another in the face of pain, or challenges.
Happiness and Harmony with God
Lastly, and certainly not least, Aristotle teaches us that the most fulfilling kind of happiness consists in being in harmony with the source of supreme goodness, or God.
“But that perfect happiness is contemplative activity by assuming the gods to be above other beings blessed and happy…..The activity of God, which surpasses all others in blessedness must be contemplative; and of human activities, therefore, that which is most akin to this must be most of the nature of happiness.”-Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics Book 10
Reading this reminds me of what we may refer to as the “Beatitudes,” or the blessings of the state of supreme blessedness given by Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew 5-7, KJV. The term beatus comes from the Latin meaning “blessed.” Reading, pondering and living these injunctions is definitely an exercise in contemplation, blessedness and finding bliss.
An Epiphany and a Call to Blessedness
Just after Thanksgiving in 2009 we decided to take our youngest two sons and their classical piano teacher Terecita Roig back to her home for a visit to the Philippines. As I have written about before, Terecita was and is one of the greatest teachers I have ever met. She taught classical piano with such love and passion that our sons never wanted to cross or disappoint her. We thought we would be repaying Terecita in a small way for what she gave our sons. In the end, we were the greatest beneficiaries of Philippine hospitality, love and what helped germinate the idea of a school— the one Linda and I had mapped out and would eventually build— into a reality.
The hospitality of this family and the Philippine people over the next several days was exemplary. To this day we count this as the best vacation we have ever had. As we concluded our trip, we asked if our hosts had a charity they liked. We were hoping to repay in a small way the amazing time we had. We were invited for a visit to an orphanage for abandoned infants and school-age children near the city dump in Manilla.
Our host that day was Sister Mary James. As we entered the school all the children stood and began singing Christmas carols in English. We were overcome with emotion. Tears flowed with a new desire to help this little nun, her school, and her ministry. As we gave her a donation to finish the school she rejoiced and said, “I knew the Lord would provide a way for me to do this school once I began.” I remember thinking at the time, “If a little nun in the Philippines can bless the lives of so many children by starting a school, then so can I in a prosperous place like California.”
As we were leaving Corregidor, I noticed the following quote outside the Pacific War Museum:
Sleep, my sons, your duty done. For Freedom’s light has come. Sleep in the silent depths of the sea. Or in your bed of hallowed sod. Until you hear at dawn the low. Clear reveille of God.
Somehow the words hit me deeply. I couldn’t get them out of my mind. They seemed to summarize a patriotic call to action for me. Our vacation had become a state of blessedness. That trip to the orphanage and the entire experience and quote were my reveille. It was my epiphany to get going. It was my call to blessedness, bliss, and felicity.
Yes, Aristotle was right, perfected happiness or joy is the intersection of mindfulness with the hinge of virtue.