spiritual diseases: boredom
Let’s start off with this:
to be human is to be spiritual.
At the heart of the Jesus Tradition is the idea that to be human isn’t simply a matter of evolutionary biology or anthropology,
but it’s also a matter of spirit.
We are made of flesh, stardust, atoms, and bone, but also the very breath – the very spirit – of God.
It’s only when we’re aware of and connected with that divine breath within us that we become fully and wholly human.
This is what the writers of the Bible are talking about when they say things like:
“we’re all one,”
“it’s in Christ that we live move and have our being,”
“that it’s through Christ that we’re reborn.”
It’s all a way of saying that it’s in and around God,
in and through our interconnectedness,
that we can enter into this deeper, higher, and more expansive understanding and experience of what it means to be human and alive in this world.
To be human is to be spiritual.
But here’s the thing about that:
even after going to church,
even after trying all these spiritual things like reading the Bible, doing yoga, and meditating,
and even after doing all the things they tell us we’re supposed to do,
we still don’t feel very spiritual.
Anyone with me on that?
Im right there with you.
Sometimes the last thing I feel like is someone who has the very animating energy of the cosmos within me.
Throughout the conversations Ive had with people about what it means to be human and alive in the world,
many have had tat experience and many of them have chalked it up to evidence that “I guess I’m not a very spiritual person.”
Maybe we’ve all had the same thought.
But let’s trust in the wisdom of our tradition that says we are all inherently spiritual and that we all have the capacity to be aware of and connected to God, and look for another reason why we can feel do alone and disconnected.
And I think it has a lot to do with this:
While we are always spiritual, we aren’t always spiritually healthy.
Just as there are things that can affect our physical and mental health,
there are things we can do to affect our spiritual health.
There are certain things, practices and mentalities that can enliven that spiritual life,
and there are certain things, practices, and mentalities that can pull us away from it.
And part of the spiritual task,
just as with other aspects of our being,
is learning what is good for our souls and what is not.
And that’s where we’re going to spend some time this Lent.
Over the next 5 weeks or so we’ll be taking some time to explore our spiritual health and look at what we’ll call “spiritual diseases”
these things which get in the way of the life we’re meant to have,
these mentalities, concepts, habits, and attitudes which hurt, afflict,
and may even kill,
the kind of life that Jesus opens up for us:
this life of being truly human,
this life that’s full of identity, meaning, and purpose.
a life that makes room for the heights and depths of our humanity,
a life that’s connected with God, each other, and with ourselves.
And we’re talking about them now because Lent is a season of being intentional about our spiritual journeys and health,
and by exploring these things we can learn what it is that we should be cautious of and avoid,
and, equally important,
what we can do when we find ourselves plagued by these harmful things.
I think it’ll be fun.
And today, we’ll start with the spiritual disease of boredom.
When the word ‘boredom’ floats down your ear holes what do you think of?
Maybe you think of being a kid and hitting that moment in the day when you’ve exhausted every form of entertainment you can think of and the world seems to be collapsing in on you and you drag yourself into wherever your parents are and you yell out, almost as if you’re dying, “Im soooo boooooored!”
Its pretty straight forward when we’re kids.
But as adults in a culture of go go go and do do do, our experiences of boredom can be tougher to spot.
Think of those moments when we sit down to decompress after a long day and suddenly 4 hours later, 3 longer than we planned, we can’t think of anything worthy enough to get up off the couch for …
Think of those days when we struggle to come up with a way to spend our time and every minute that goes by is more painful than the next and then suddenly its bedtime and we’re left wondering where the day went …
Think of those moments when we’re at home, school, or work and we’re doing what we do but we’re dying on the inside because it all seems so gruelling, so unfulfilling, so unsatisfying, and so pointless …
Or think of those times when we’re looking back on our day and we struck with the staggering thought of “this is what my life has amounted to? …”
Anyone know what we’re talking about?
Im sure we all do. Swap in a word here and there and we’re talking about our lived reality.
And I bring them up because they say something really important about the nature of boredom.
Boredom is less something we experience, and more an attitude we have.
When we talk about boredom, we’re not talking about self-care and rest and those moments when we choose to do nothing out of respect for ourselves.
We’re talking about those moments when we choose to see ourselves and this world in a very particular way.
What we talk about when we talk about boredom is the attitude that says:
“There’s nothing worth while to do.
I have nothing to contribute.
There is nothing to be a part of.”
And here’s why this is problematic for us and why boredom is symptomatic of a dying spiritual life:
At the beginning of Bible there’s this ancient poem about how God created this world for us to call ‘home.’
It’s this big and beautiful world that’s described as being full of
fish and birds,
trees and plants,
animals, and insects,
stars and planets,
and mountains and oceans;
And out of all the beautiful truths and claims this poem makes about the nature of this world,
there’s one really important characteristic we need to hear:
this world was intentionally left unfinished.
The world that God created in the very beginning,
wasn’t static and fixed and completed,
it was dynamic, wild, and free,
it was a world that was given the ability to reproduce,
to keep going,
to keep evolving,
to keep becoming,
to keep moving forward,
almost as if the entire thing was meant to go somewhere and become something.
And right into the middle of this generative and creative world,
God put humanity and God told us:
Make something of all of this.
Help steward it in the right direction.
Help me create a world of justice, peace, and love.”
What the writers of this story are doing is pointing out a very core truth that helps shape how we’re to understand ourselves and view the world:
that all of this,
all we see and experience around us,
all of it was set in motion by this Generative Divine Energy,
this God that is still guiding it forward, moving it closer and closer towards wholeness and completion,
and that this God has not only invited – but has created – us to play a fundamental role in the very on-going creation of the universe.
If thats the spirit that is chorusing in and around us,
if that’s the spirit that makes us truly human,
then we can get a sense of what a healthy and vibrant spirituality looks like:
A healthy and vibrant spiritual life is a creative life,
it’s one that participates in moving the world forward.
It’s a life that sees who we are and what we have as integral to the very on-going creation of the universe.
It’s a life that sees our life and well-being connected to the life and well-being of the world and people around us.
It’s a life that participates in something bigger than itself.
As Alan Watts would put it:
“We are all as much a part of the physical universe as a wave is a part of the ocean.”
And maybe it’s there we can see the disruption and tension that boredom can bring into to our lives:
While our boredom says “Ugh, there’s nothing to do.
Our spirituality says: “There’s so many amazing things to do!”
While our boredom says “Meh. Ive got nothing to offer.”
Our spirituality says “I have something that the world needs!”
While our boredom says “Ugh, nothing is worth my time.”
Our spirituality says “There’s nothing more important than this.”
Boredom draws us into a life that waits for the world to happen to us,
while our spirituality draws us into a life where the world is waiting for us to happen to it.
Boredom draws us into the attitude that we aren’t made for this and we’re not connected to what’s going on around us.
if we let it,
if it grabs a hold of us enough,
can kill us spiritually because it can lead us out of the very thing that makes us human.
So, what can we do if we’re plagued by boredom?
What can we do if we find ourselves stuck in that monotonous struggle?
What remedies are there for this spiritual disease?
A few things to offer you.
1) Practice what Henri Nouwen calls ‘attentive living,’
this self awareness and an inner sensitivity to where you are at and whats going on in and around you.
Knowing that this world needs you,
that its very forward movement hinges on the gifts you have within you,
pay attention to whats going on in and around you,
listen for your name is being called out,
and see the many marvellous ways that you are needed every moment and get involved in them.
It may be as small as going for a walk and taking in the beauty of this earth or acknowledging the existence of someone on the street.
It may be as big as refusing to be silent when you see racism and discrimination.
Slow down, pay attention, and see where the world needs you to be.
2) If youre in a battle against boredom,
if your life has become a monotonous grind of just going through the motions day after day while thinking ‘surely, my life can be more than this!,’
stop and go where the life is,
go be in places that make you come alive in the ways you’ve been longing for.
Maybe that means a huge overhaul to your career, or maybe that just means an overhaul to your routine.
stop and go where the life is.
3) And finally,
try adding this practice to your day.
with everything you do and everything you say,
“Am I moving the world forward?”
“Will this action or word help to make this world more just, more peaceful, and more loving”
We are meant to live creative and generative lives,
lives that help to drive this world forward, helping it become the kind of world God envisioned in the very beginning.
You have the capacity to do that.
Its what you were created to do.
May you not give in to boredom, but unleash yourself upon this world,
and may you find yourself becoming more and more alive with all you do and say.