In Praise of Boredom

800px-Fox_squirrel_with_sunflowerseed_by_tree_South_Bend_Indiana_USAIf you have kids, certainly by now at this point in the summer someone has said -at least once- “I’m bored”.  Let’s be honest,at one time or another,  you have probably said it yourself. So in the midst of the boring days of summer, let’s think a little about boredom.

 We live in a culture where boredom is a bad thing.  Things that are boring are repetitious, dull, uneventful. We are supposed to crave the new and exciting. Variety, we are told, is the spice of life. Pick up a magazine or watch TV to learn about the new ways to grill, new summer salads, new vacation spots.  There will be new styles to wear this fall and new ways to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving.

Children who complain about being bored in the summer at my house get sent outside.  And just like me, when I was sent outside because I was bored, my children discover all sorts of things to do once they move through “boring” and come out on the other side.

Boring is commonplace, universal in scope, yet, oddly there are an infinate number of ways to be bored. Each of us has the ability to be bored in unique ways. I find TV watching to be boring. Considering the amount of TV people watch, I hold a minority opinion. On the other hand, I can sit on my back porch and look at my backyard for a long time and be quite interested in the small things I notice.

“It’s boring” is one of the reasons we don’t like to practice the…   well fill in the blank for yourself-  piano, spelling words, Greek grammar paradigms, putts, backstrokes.  Malcolm McDowell in his book Outliers ( by the way, well worth reading) notes that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become proficient at basically anything. 10,000 hours is a lot of scales, a lot of vocabulary study, a lot of computer programing, a lot of surgery, a lot of parenting. 10,000 hours is a lot of boredom.

Preparing for ones violin recital can be boring. Believe me it can be  boring to listen to someone prepare for a violin491px-MyViolin recital. One of my son’s violin teachers told him that he need to practice his piece until it was boring and then past that point. As the recital date gets closer, I find myself humming the recital piece and liking it. It becomes a favorite piece of music- after I’m done being bored by it.

“It’s boring” is also one of the arguments against a set liturgy or fixed prayers. Saying the same words every week, people claim just causes the rote mouthing of empty words. But I suspect (for Protestants, I don’t have sufficient experience in other traditions to comment.) part of our problem is we are unwilling to remain bored.

I once attended a church where we recited the Apostle’s Creed after the sermon every week. And once I had said it enough to memorize it, it was boring.  But only for a while. Then one day as I spoke the words, I realized the Apostle’s Creed was a way I could speak about things that are important to me with the community of faith.  Something about the practice of saying those words with the Church ( and I don’t just mean the people who were in the same room with me) shaped me and I didn’t even know it was happening. When we attended a church that didn’t recite the Creed, I missed it. It had become an important statement of faith for me. Often when I said those words each week a certain phrase would stand out and become a source of reflection.  I had recited the creed until it was boring and then past that point.

What lies past the point of boredom? A solid grounding in the basics. Musicians practice scales, athletes practice moves, language students practice grammar. The basics of anything, music, sports, language, faith provide the foundation we build on.

What lies past the point of boredom? Intimacy. The words, the music, the action becomes a part of us. We are shaped by the practice.

What lies past the point of bordom? Meaningful engagement. The musician engagement of the music is in conversation with the composer and the other musicians who had played the music. The faithful recite the Creeds and become part of the larger church. They are linked to the past, the present and to the future.

Often we when something becomes boring, we think it’s time to quit. But perhaps boring is the last obstacle before real understanding occurs.

So, dear readers, when something is boring is it time to quit or time to push on and see what lies beyond boring?

I’d like to know, what do you think?

2 thoughts on “In Praise of Boredom

  1. Three of our children played piano quite well and I can testify that getting past boring was a key for each of them.

    But you bring “boring” into the spiritual realm, and I find that interesting. I suppose we don’t truly know anything until we know it so well we could start anywhere and provide a full understanding. While I think the religious experience is so much more than knowing, knowing is key. We build our spiritual experience on what we know.

  2. There is “knowing” and then there is “knowing” isn’t there? An intellectual, thinking sort of knowing and then a more embodied knowing- like the muscle memory that means once you learn to ride a bike or play the piano you always know how to do it. And then a third sort of knowing- the way I know my family or a best friend, or God. A knowing that superceeds words and reason.

    Thanks for all your comments.

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