B is for Boredom

Dear Kids,

The other day I read something by Elizabeth Scalia in which she was bemoaning boredom. Hers was a boredom born from spending too many waking hours in the realm of politics and, to an extent, pop culture. I easily identified with her plight as I’ve had to take steps back from that part of life several times.

I am bored by the same people saying the same things, week after week, and by their dismaying contempt for curiosity, and by my own, too.

A few days ago … President Obama said, “the private sector is doing fine.” Opposition predictably jumped on it; sympathizers predictably worked to spin it; all of the same people who have been in our faces for decades were in our faces again—on television, on the radio, in social media—and their busy words, predictably, boiled down to “shut up; other opinions are unconscionable and do not belong at our lunchtable.”

While I’ve always encouraged you to read and watch the news and stay abreast of current events, I have also cautioned you about getting lost in them. You have to shut off the news now and then or you risk drowning in the shallowest of waters. It is a paradox of our age that we have access to more information than all of the centuries that came before us yet we are losing our ability for originality or critical thinking. Too many ingest the opinions of others and rotely recite them, and they in turn are parroted by those they talk to. And so it goes, and endless line of talking points regurgitated ad nauseum by a populace that’s never bothered to pause long enough to ask itself: “Why the hell am I saying this?”

Scalia goes on:

Familiarity breeds contempt. Incuriosity makes us predictable and boring, and our media outlets, whether old or new, establishment or alternative, are crammed with things we have already heard, already seen, already thought of. Say something new? What is there left to say?

Indeed, it would seem we have nothing left to say. Hollywood regurgitates remake after remake. Television does the same, as last night saw the “premier” (starring the 80-year old man who played the same part thirty years ago) of a television show that was popular when I was a teenager (Dallas). Why is this? What causes us to have access to so much yet be so unoriginal…so boring?

There are many reasons and one could probably fill a book with them, but instead I’m going to point you towards a few ways that I’ve successfully used to combat boredom. It is boredom’s ally, a lack of intellectual curiosity, that more than any other that I see all too often and the one which drives me crazy. It causes the talking heads in the media and sadly too many people we know personally or through social media to characterize one another into one camp or the other based upon a stereotype. People devour news sites, blogs, or Facebook just to find something…anything…that will reinforce whatever prejudices they have about another group. Avoid  this temptation, because if you succumb to it you risk missing out on some beautiful friendships and opening your mind to all the wonderful diversity that abounds around us. Take your eyes off of the inanity and turn them towards eternity.

So here are a few of the arrows in my quiver, so to speak, that have helped me ward off this type of boredom. Ironically they all start with the letter B so they fit in well with this letter.

“You cannot open a book without learning something” as Confucius famously said. Or, as Groucho Marx said, “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” You could do worse than to follow that advice. You know me to be a purist in that I favor traditional books that I can hold in my hands. You’ve watched as I fan the pages before my face and breathe in the paper and ink. Yes, your dad is goofy that way, but don’t let that stop you from picking up the torch. And while you cannot do the same thing with a Kindle, Nook or e-reader of your choice, you should still utilize those devices to read. Libraries abound, both in your home and within a few minutes drive. May you always be armed with a library card and the thirst that can only be slaked by a good book.

One of my favorite books, and one you’ve all watched me use, is my breviary. It is a prayer book containing the ancient liturgical prayers of the Church. There is individual prayer and communal prayer, and while I do pray individually I also believe in the power of uniting my prayers with the Universal Church. I began praying the post-Vatican II Divine Office known more commonly as the Liturgy of the Hours (four volumes) a little over a decade ago, but have recently become interested in praying the Divine Office as it remained (with minor changes) for over 1000 years and is a tradition that goes back to the Old Testament and the Jewish people. I recently acquired a three-volume set of the Breviarium Romanum by Baronius Press. You can read a little more about the Divine Office here and here. I hope this is something each of you cultivates when you’re older as there is much fertile ground present within these prayers. There is a peace that spreads over me as I pray the words that I know at that same moment are being said by priests, monks, and laypeople all over the world. I almost never fail to find something to contemplate and apply to my life when finished.

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You knew this one would be listed, and perhaps thought it would be the sole subject of the Letter B. I had considered it. I realize it’s only my opinion, but in my eyes baseball is the perfect game. There have been mountains of books and barrels of ink used to romanticize and (perhaps) over-sentimentalize the game so I will refrain from doing the same. I love the game because there is no clock. There are on average just under 300 pitches thrown per major league baseball game by both teams combined. Each single pitch represents a single unique situation. It is always changing…always different. You have to truly know the game to see this fact. A minimum of 300 unique situations per nine innings. How on earth could one be bored by that?

And yes, my favorite team the Boston Red Sox also begins with a B. Simpatico.

The first word Jesus uttered during his Sermon on the Mount was “happy,” or “blessed” (makarios in Greek; beatitudo in Latin). The word “happy” can be a difficult or misleading one for modern readers, as Mark Brumley notes: People today often associate happiness with “having a good time”—with pleasure and comfort, the antithesis of suffering and want. But contemporary usage is flawed. True happiness is spiritual and moral, not merely emotional or pleasurable. The saints in heaven are supremely happy, because they’re with God, the source of all happiness. We call their happiness beatitude, and we speak of the beatific vision of God, which the saints enjoy. (“The Blessings & Curses of the Beatitudes,” The Catholic Faith [September/October 2001])

The happiness I am referring to here is a joyful one, flowing from the life of God. The one thing every person desires is joy—and Jesus tells us how to find true joy and happiness. We are made by God and for communion with God. The Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness. “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” St. Augustine wrote this in the opening paragraph to his Confessions (a great book, by the way). Nothing short of God will fill up the infinite longing within us.

God, who is love, wills the good of the other. Love is living for the other. Having received the gift of divine life, we must give it to others as a gift. This is the paradox of grace: in sharing God’s life and love with others, we grow in that very life and love.

I admit that I came to understand the Beatitudes presented by Jesus Christ a bit late in the game. There is a lot to glean from them, too much for me to write about here. This morning I looked in my copy of Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI and he himself devoted twenty-nine pages to them. It was within the pages of this book that I really began to study them, pushed in that direction by a fellow blogger a few years ago who herself always wrote about them.

In his landmark series Catholicism, Fr. Robert Barron pointed out that St. Thomas Aquinas said the beatitudes are best exemplified in Christ crucified, so that you will be happy only if you despise what Jesus despised on the cross and if you love what he loved. So what did he despise? Wealth (he was stripped of every belonging), pleasure (he endured intense physical and psychological suffering), power (he was nailed to the cross, immobilized), and honor (he was publically mocked and taunted).

Does this woman look bored to you?

While I’m not wishing martyrdom upon you, I do encourage you to crucify yourself in a sense by purging from your heart any distorted desire for wealth, pleasure, power and honor. In the service of others you will find fulfillment. Within the Beatitudes are the keys to happiness. I pray that you will give them a look. It is a difficult thing to be bored when you are truly happy. One of the best examples of this type of living Beatitude I can provide you is Katie Davis of Amazima. I have her book. Pull it from the shelf and read it. Here is a link to her blog. Click it.

This brings us to the final key I use to combat boredom: beauty. No one has ever said aloud “Please, I can’t take any more beauty. Make it stop!” Beauty surrounds us. It is quiet. It is familiar. It is too easily overlooked. It is within paintings, the classic works of art and the scribbles of a crayon. Beauty is found in the melody of a piece of music. It is present in a great movie or play. Beauty is in the creation that surrounds us all. What I find boring is the cold, narcissistic nihilism present to much modern art. You can almost hear the “artist” crying out “Look at me, I’ve thrown elephant dung on a painting of the Virgin Mary or dropped a crucifix in a jar of urine. Aren’t I artistic? Isn’t that amazing?” Frankly, no. You’re boring. Get over yourself and create something that lifts our hearts and minds to something outside of ourselves instead of such vacuous self-indulgent twaddle.

“Beauty is but the sensible image of the Infinite. Like truth and justice it lives within us; like virtue and the moral law it is a companion to the soul.” – Bancroft

Our greatest challenge today is remembering what Bancroft is saying about Beauty. We wear its imprint on our soul and in our hearts, but its voice is too often drowned out by the noise of the world or by the insulating steel and mortar of an office building. To counter boredom do yourself this favor: get up early, before the first light of the sun, driving out to the country if you can. Find a hill and look towards the east as the starlight begins to wane and the blackness of the sky turns to purple. Watch as the purple turns to red, and then to orange as the tip of the orb of the sun peeks above the horizon. Turn around to the west, and note how the sky is darker there and stars still visible. Do this in silence. Or, if you prefer, recite the Morning Prayer for that day, or simply utter words of thanksgiving within your heart or from your mouth.

Not boring.

For me a source of great beauty is the music of Beethoven. (Gee, another B word!) I love many varieties of music, but my love of music originated with Beethoven when I was very small. And while I prefer the entireties of his fifth, seventh and ninth symphonies I have yet to find any piece of music, ancient or modern, to compete with his Moonlight Sonata. I have listened to it hundreds of times and played its opening bars on the piano a hundred more. And yet I’m never bored with it. I’ve placed it at the end of this post.

I’ll close this out by saying that you are a product of the things you put inside of you. The books you read, the people you associate yourself with, and the music you listen to. You have heard me say that I can tell a lot about someone by simply knowing who their friends are, what books are near their bed and what music is on their iPod. It is perhaps an overgeneralization but I believe it to be largely accurate.

by Sara Teasdale

Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children’s faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit’s still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife will lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.

Do as Teasdale wrote above and give all you can. There is nothing boring about this life, or any of these things I listed above. They are too often underutilized precisely because they are difficult to the modern soul. We tend to take the easy way out. This is the lazy way of reality television, the promotion of stereotypes and the parroting of talking points. Don’t do this, kids. Your mom and I raised you to think for yourselves; and to accept the responsibility of properly educating and forming your consciences so that you are prepared for these challenges.

As a result of this I hope you are never bored. What a waste of your time that would be.

There is nothing boring about the eternal.

I love you.

©2012 Jeff A Walker. All Rights Reserved.


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