Open Book: War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy

BY: pradm2n

Lori

Pray Maker and her friend Alice Shelton discuss spiritual themes and questions from literature and poetry, then top it off with a prayer from the Prayables collection. Join us in our journey to find God between the pages of our favorite books. This week, Lori and Alice will discuss a quotation from Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace."

 

 

Radio Transcript

Lori:
Hello and welcome to Open Book, a lively discussion of literature and spirituality. My name is Lori Strawn and I'm a praymaker forprayables.com, an online prayer community for women of all faiths. With me is my friend, Alice Shelon, and today we're talking about War & Peace and we'd love to have you join our conversation. You can call 347-855-8506 or you can join us in the chatroom just by signing up at Blog Talk Radio. Well Al what's our quote today?

Alice:
Well Lori, I think I picked a really hard one, this is going to be a complex discussion today I think, so take it slow. The quote is from War and Peace, the novel by Leo Tolstoy and it goes as follows "The bible legend tell us that the absence of toil, idolness, was the condition of the first man's state of bliss before the fall. This love of idleness has remained the same in the fallen man but the curse still lies heavy on the human race because our moral nature is such that we are unable to be idle and at ease."

So just a little bit of background, while War and Peace is a dense long novel, Russian novel obviously, and a lot of the themes relate to Russian society and the impact that the wide chasm between peasant labor and nobility had on the society, nobility actually being idle nobility. So I guess the first question that I'd like us to talk about a little bit is 'how does work or toil impact the human condition and human spirituality? And maybe if we have the ability to answer, how does it impact the conditions in Russian society at the time of War and Peace?'

Lori:
Okay, well I think there is really the mentality and certainly, I live by, work is good. It's honest, it's noble, it's necessary. When you get done with a hard days work you feel, oh, cleansed, rewarded, I've done something. You have something to show and in some ways you invest yourself in that work to the point that the work becomes you. If the work is good then you are good and that's kind of an easy way to get self esteem in some ways, whereas being idle you don't produce anything. And sometimes it appeals to our worst instincts like sloth and gluttony.

Certainly in Russia, at the time, the idle nobility were producing nothing. They were giving nothing to the peasants who were working so hard. They would be easy to see work as noble and good and idleness as very negative. Don't you think?

Alice:
I think so. Particularly if you're looking at it from the peasant's perspective, it would be a bit irritating. I'm a little surprised that Tolstoy, there's some writing about Tolstoy that his sense was that the military was sort of the ultimate in idleness because there was so much just waiting and waiting and watching, and that surprised me about him, because I view military as such a more active, more working lifestyle now. But I think back in the day where wars were waiting for attacks or looking for things like that thing probably felt a lot more idle.

But I agree with your sense about labor and feeling like you get very invested in your work as your accomplishment and as your sort of indication of who you are and what your worth is. Very interesting. Do you think this has impact on spirituality? You didn't really speak much to that, I mean other than just feeling like self worth. Do you think God views work or idleness in certain ways?

Lori:
Certainly I think that people tend to look at it that way. That God sees work as good and, I mean, let's face it, what's the first thing he does in the bible? He makes the world; he's active, he's laboring. Whereas idleness is sort of the Devil's pervue, isn't it? And so I can certainly see how working or being idle is related to a feeling of being a good person or being a bad person. I don't know if that's really true though. I have neglegent suspicions that it's not.

Alice:
Well I think it's probably not and I was surprised actually when I did a little more reading on, I don't want to say this, I did a little more reading on the absence of idleness being present before the fall and that there was no work before the fall. And I really have thought about that over the past week because I know I definitely am a person who probably struggles with working too much and not being comfortable or even being idle, so I'm thinking about 'what is it like to not have work?' Or what is it like or what was it like before the fall when idleness was what man knew. It's just an interesting construct for me.

Lori:
Right and in many ways it's like thinking about heaven. I mean in heaven you're with God all the time, you have everything that you'd ever want or need but you're not going to be bored. And it's hard for us to get around that paradox; that there will be limitless opportunities to do, that we'll never be bored. And yet it feels like it because we won't have the business that we have on earth.

Alice:
Right. This is in a lot of ways, there are a lot of things about heaven that are hard for me to think about or understand, but this is one of the hardest ones. I mean, I think both idleness and business can lead to very negative things just like they, I'm sure, can both lead to very positive things. But I guess the way I think in the extreme, I guess I'd like to think that idleness leads to more negative because as you say we tend to hear of it as the devil's playground and if there's a lot of idle time and space people's minds wander, their activites wander. But certainly work can be viewed as any other sort of addiction, too much of it is not balanced. I think how do you find the balance between the two?

That's part of the human condition, is just finding the balance. And for Russian people, I mean, our work to some degree in contemporary society is an option for us, I mean for many of us, granted, we want to live a certain way so we make choices about the work we do, in a lot of cases, not in every case. In Russina society the peasant labor didn't have choice. It was a matter of eat or don't, so there work was coming from a very different place and a very different need than ours.

Lori:
True. I think that in some ways both idleness and business are both form of self-centeredness. Do you see what I mean by that?

Alice:
I do, I do.

Lori:
It's sort of an excuse. Being busy can be an excuse to not open yourself up to other opportunities or to help people because the work makes you feel so good about yourself you don't have to supplement that by perhaps having a spiritual side.

Alice:
Yeah it's sort of a replacement thing that's kind of like what I said about addiction, it's just replacing something like spirituality or taking space that keeps you from focusing on God. I think there's been an interesting flip since Tolstoy wrote this because at the time that he was writing this, work would have been viewed as negative and idleness viewed as the nice benefit of being wealthy and in some ways now that has changed. In some way now there is prestige to being busy and you hear your friends saying 'oh how are you?' and people say 'oh I'm really busy.' Well that wasn't really what I was asking is what I usually respond, we're all busy. But a state of business has almost become prestigous, as if if you're not busy, something's wrong.

Lori:
Exactly. It's almost as if you're not busy, well why not? Why aren't you producing something, why aren't you doing? Of course the other side of that is if you're not doing you're just being and if you're being you have to confront yourself. And let's face it, most of us don't want to confront ourselves. It's much easier to be doing than being.

Alice:
Yeah, we're singing a song in choir for Christmas called "Be Still and Know that I am God." And I have spent a lot of time throughout the rehearsal, just with tears running down my cheeks during the rehearsal, because I know that for me being still and knowing that God is present, just being still I think is like heroin withdrawal for me. I mean when I try to just sit and be still and let my mind be empty and open to what God is saying I get the shakes, I mean, I'm a wreck. It's just sad that I can do it for maybe 30 seconds or 60 seconds and then I'm a mess. But, you know, you ask me to do some volunteer task at work or at church, that involves me being active and doing something, I can do that for endless hours. So when I think about what God is really asking or requiring of me I think its both ends, but I think God would probably enjoy a little more quiet still time with me and vice versa.

Lori:
Yeah, of course there is one sure way to be both idle and at ease. It's called sleeping. That's why I love to sleep so much. When I was a kid my mom would say "what is your favorite time of day?" and I said "night time because you can sleep then." That's the one time of the day that you are absolutely idle and absolutely at ease.

Alice:
Yeah, I hadn't thought about that.

Lori:
Not that bad.

Alice:
I would imagine that the Russians were very happy to have that time of sleep, given the life they were leading especially during the time of war. What wretched conditions they lived in. Well I did have one, I think we have a little time left, and I did have one other brief quote that I just wanted to share from War and Peace and maybe we can talk a little bit about it. And that is "You can love a person dear to you with human love but an enemy can only be loved with divine love." Any thoughts on that one?

Lori:
Wow. That's so true. People who love you, it's easy to love, you know? It's almost instinct to love those who love you. But someone who doesn't love you, who actively hates you, now that takes prayer, that takes courage, that takes a strong moral fiber in many ways.

Alice:
Absolutely. I don't remember what section of the book that was in, it wasn't near the one about idleness and work, but I thought it was interesting. Tolstoy was a complex author and there are lots and lots of quotes about God and divinity and eternity and heaven and hell in the book. It's just an interesting, interesting look through it. Well thanks for sharing on that.

Lori:
Well I hate to end the discussion, but it's time for our prayer reading from the prayer collection at www.prayables.com. This prayer is called "The Last Pitty Party" and it's by my friend Sue Bradford Edwards.



Alice:
Amen

Lori:
Well coming up next week we're going to have our Christmas extravaganza. We're going to have all our favorite quotes from Christmas literature, Christmas poetry, maybe even some songs. We're talking Dickens, we're talking Alvin, lots lots more. I'm very excited.

Alice:
Dr. Seuss!

Lori:
Yes, Dr. Seuss. We have to have Dr. Seus. So I hope everyone will be there, please listen and in the mean time, if you're looking for God, just open a book.

Alice:
Have a good week.

 

 

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