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.