Sunday, March 19, 2017

Some More Thoughts on Boredom

At Mass this morning, I found myself ruminating on my recent claim that I am always bored at Mass, and that I am always bored praying the rosary. Strictly speaking, these claims are true, but they need a little bit of explanation.

I also think that boredom, rather paradoxcially, is an interesting subject, and I could write a lot about it.

First of all, when I say I am bored at Mass and while praying the rosary, to a great extent I'm lamenting the difference between an ideal and how far short of it I fall. I would really, really, really love to be one of these people who are utterly absorbed and enraptured at Mass, and during prayer. I have read about saints and holy people who were like that. I'm not like that, and I feel bad about it.

St. Josemaria Escriva wrote: "You say the Mass is long because your love is short". Guilty. And ashamed of it.

When I read that the rock star Kurt Cobain had shot himself because he felt guilty that he wasn't enjoying his success, I thought it was a bizarre and weird thing to do. I still think it was. But now and again, I'm reminded of it by my own stream of thought. I've often felt guilty that my emotional response to something falls short of what I think it should be. (Not guilty enough to shoot myself, though.)

The second thing that needs to be said is that I'm not all that bored at Mass. I'm moderately bored, and the boredom is certainly intermingled with feelings of devotion, religious awe, belonging, etc. etc.

There are certainly degrees of boredom, and I found myself musing on this today.

What's the most boring situation of all? For my money, it's being forced to listen to some very dull lecture or presentation. This is a sort of boredom which is not only irksome but actually painful. It puts me in a kind of panic, a feeling of being trapped and suffocated.

I did part of an evening degree in English and philosophy about twelve years ago. The English literature classes were almost entirely devoted to identity politics and rubbishy theories such as semiology. I remember sitting in one lecture-- about poetry!-- and feeling utterly overwhelmed. It was in a lecture theatre, and I found myself looking across the sea of faces and thinking: "This is torture. This is unendurable. Every second of this is mind-numbing. I just can't take this." It's one of those moments that always sticks with you.

The funny thing is that I find many apparently unstimulating activities to be the opposite of boring. I think everybody must have this experience-- why else would golf and cricket be popular?

I've noticed the funny paradox, in my own responses, that I find standing in a short queue to be aggravating, but I quite enjoy standing in a long queue (say for twenty minutes)-- if I have something to read. It becomes an event, a little society of its own.

I enjoy cutting things out-- I enjoy this very much. I've never really scrapbooked, but I think I would enjoy it. Some time ago, I took all the newspapers I'd been keeping, because I had letters published in them, and I cut out the letters, while half-watching TV. I've rarely enjoyed anything more.

I enjoy wrapping Christmas gifts while half-watching something on TV, or listening to a Youtube video. I enjoy putting up Christmas decorations while half-watching something on TV. (Traditionally, a Star Trek DVD.)

I enjoy making Excel spredsheets. Once, when I'd bought a movie almanac, I had the idea of going through the almanac from A to Z and typing every movie I'd seen into an Excel spreadsheet, assigning them marks out of five and recording the circumstances in which I'd seen each one. I had the time of my life doing it.

Some months ago I decided to go through my gmail account, to delete all my unwanted emails and sort out the ones I wanted to keep into folder. The emails went back to 2008. I greatly enjoyed this, too.

What's the most stimulating, most interesting activity?

Well, good conversation with somebody you like must be close to the top of the list.

Writing, for me, is an activity in which boredom completely disappears.

Sometimes an activity can be too interesting, too boredom-destroying. I don't play computer games because there were two different occasions when I played a computer game for sixteen hours straight. They were both strategy games, I'm happy to say-- Sid Meier's Civilization the first time, and Shogun: Total War the second time. (Apart from Tetris and some very basic, arcade-type games in my youth, I haven't really played many others.)

I was taken aback at just how addictive, even hypnotic I found these games to be. After Shogun, I thought: "OK, I'm not going any further down that road."

Which brings me back to the point I made in my original post; I don't think boredom is an entirely bad thing. With most activities that are worth doing, boredom is just something you have to battle through. How often have you recommended a movie or a book to someone with the words: "It takes a little while to get going, but you have to stick with it?". Is this a flaw in the book or movie? Usually not. Usually, the artist simply demands a certain attentiveness and patience from his audience, which is (hopefully) amply rewarded. The first time I saw Groundhog Day, my favourite movie of all time, I thought it was an OK movie, nothing to write home about. It grew on me slowly.

So maybe I shouldn't feel too guilty about being bored-- comparatively bored-- when I go to Mass, and when I say the rosary.


  1. No boredom for me at mass. But there's an institute of Christ the King sovereign priest church where I live. High Latin liturgy everyday, nah nah nah nah nah nah lol : )

    1. Yes, someone else made this suggestion to me via email. Maybe the Latin Mass wouldn't bore me. I don't know.

      I keep thinking I should write a post about my attitude regarding the Latin Mass, but I keep hesitating for various reasons. Maybe there is some kind of contrarianism in me that doesn't want to take the obvious step. Sometimes I feel like one of those Anglican clergymen in the Oxford Movement who stayed in the Church of England because they felt more needed there. Which is insanely self-important, I know. It's occurred to me recently that one thing you can at least know for sure in a traditionalist church is that the vast majority of people are there because they actually believe, that they can recite the Creed and mean it.

  2. No doubt there is something very beautiful about Mass in Irish also, even though the early liturgy in the "Celtic era"seems to have been in Latin, the Book of Kells used Latin (but without the V, if I can remember without looking it up). I had a friend who was studying in Rome for a while, hoping to be an exclusively 62 missal priest. He was introduced to Mary McAleese at one stage, who was studying canon law at the time, he seems to have met with her a couple of times(she said he was fun to debate with) As she's notoriously fond of Irish language liturgy it was one mutual point-he said to her " we both dislike English Masses!." I'd be curious to know whether O'Riarda masses still get used in the context of liturgy? Some nice vernacular music was written at the same period here ( by a talented priest-musician, Albert Lynch)-it's now rarely used as experts insist that there has to be music that people can join in,a lot of this you cannot, and of course it can't be used for traditional masses either. Fr Lynch's MASS OF JOHN HENRY NEWMAN, sung for Australia's first papal visit by Paul VI in particular is quite inspiring.

    1. Yes, as far as I can tell, every Irish language Mass is deeply influenced by O'Riada-- "Ag Críost an Síol" especially.

      Mary McAleese is unbearable. Only yesterday she was reported as saying that we should "drown out" the voices of "racism and intolerance". Not engage with them, mark you-- drown them out. That's the way to do it. Of course, when she says "racism and intolerance", she just means anyone who criticizes internationalisation in any way.

  3. ... Perhaps not the worst Mary they've had

  4. I was going to leave the subject of the traditional Mass alone, but somehow I just felt this morning that I should say something,I was thinking of trying your personal email, but here goes:
    I almost exclusively attend the traditional Mass. It's no miracle cure when you have an overactive mind. Sermons in particular can be tedious, probably because the priests are constantly trying to keep within a perimeter which pleases everyone there(not easy). Although I wasn't a pious child, my memories of all the beautiful inner city churches in Dublin is quite profound. I think in this secular age, if I was living there I'd be constantly making it my business to visit when I could, light candles or attend Mass. Everyone is only one person in the pews, but going to traditional masses would never make me feel that I was doing a "Newman crossover". I've been looking some up for my parents. Most seem to be doing ok, still holding many masses etc,I was happy to see a St Martin dePorres chapel website still in existence ( if only for nostalgic reasons, something about that room-chapel was enchanting to a boy.) The only one that had virtually closed was St Paul at Arran Quay, which my father said was closing even 30 years ago, just as a million Irishmen turned up to see JohnPaul II.
    Anyway, the church we have here for the 62 Mass in Perth is one that would have been demolished had the Latin Mass chaplaincy not taken it. I know it's the same with the Sacred Heart church in Limerick. (Know nothing about St Kevin's in Dublin.) So my first point is: No one need feel that they're not part of the work of the church by attending this Mass-churches can be saved from destruction by special chaplaincies. Whether people believe that John Paul is a saint or an apostate, and we have people on both spectrums, they're still being active in his "new evangelization". Second: I can't speak for Ireland, but here we have mostly people who will attend Mass other places, once it's well said, especially on weekdays. I go to my geographical parish during an annual Latin Mass retreat which I can't attend. Others are involved in other church organizations. A small minority are hard-line and will not go to any other diocesan church, even if it means not going to Mass at all. So, you can be assured that don't needed to feel that you're in a ghetto by attending trad. Masses. I've seen StKevin's in a magazine and the papal nuncio Brown was in attendance for Holy Week which is an indication that the community is open and "inclusive"(if you'll allow that word!)
    People do overdo the political clichés, saying that ' we get lots of young people, the NovusOrdo mass ,or modern litugies at any rate, get only aging hippies' or ' vocations only come or mainly come through trad. Mass parishes' -there is some slight factual basis there but it's never that black and white. MOST of our people appreciate anything good in the church and don't feel they need to leave the rest behind to attend our church

    1. Thanks, Séamus.

      The factors holding me back from the Latin Mass are various; logistical, to a great extent, but also psychological (and often purely irrational). I think I will write a full post about it when I have more time.

      In any case I don't expect a Latin Mass to be available on UCD's campus any time soon!!