...people are consumed by boredom...It is like some sort of dust. One comes and goes without seeing it, one breathes it in, one eats it, one drinks it, and it is so fine that it doesn't even scrunch between one's teeth. But if one stops for a moment, it settles like a blanket over the face and hands. One has to constantly shake this ash-rain off one. That is why people are so restless.
(Georges Bernanos, The Diary of a Country Priest)
We've all heard the exasperated teenage cry, 'BORING!' yet, as recent studies reveal, although more vocal about their feelings, teenagers are far from alone in experiencing boredom. Britain is apparently Europe's fourth most bored nation, each of us suffering six hours of boredom each week.
The democratisation of leisure in the West since the 19th Century has brought in its wake an epidemic of boredom. With more time on our hands, boredom has become a defining characteristic of our culture; for many a default state for experiencing the world rather than an occasional experience. Indeed, it has been suggested that in the modern period "interesting" and "boring" have come to supplant "good" and "bad" as categories of value in the West.
If this is the case, and boredom is perceived to be a critical threat to our wellbeing, then the church is presented with a unique set of challenges in its outreach. Might we be tempted to respond simply by making faith and spirituality more 'interesting' or 'entertaining'?
Yet despite sharing the same capacity and instinct for boredom as everyone else, Christians may yet be distinctive by walking a different and countercultural path. Rather than seeking to discover new and innovative ways to escape boredom, our call may be to wilfully embrace moments of inactivity and practise waiting. In her book, The Noonday Demon, Kathleen Norris explores her ongoing struggle with lethargy and boredom after her husband's death and shares her daily prayer through that experience:
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.
Learning, in times when we are called to do nothing, to 'do nothing, gallantly' - might that offer a way for Christians in our bored society?