Today’s Bible reading
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”—Luke 21:34-36
More thoughts for meditation
During Lent we will be learning from great practitioners and teachers of Christian contemplative practice. Their shared wisdom and encouragement will inspire our own practice. Our words for Lent are “We need to feel it.” — our hunger, our lack, our sin, yes, but also the love that casts out fear, the presence of eternity in our here and now and the forgiveness that transforms our lives and the whole world. Contemplative prayer is a powerful way to practice feeling it.
Martin Laird’s A Sunlit Absence is a companion book to Into The Silent Land (Pastors’ Goodreads review here and Daily Prayer entries on that text here). He is one of our aforementioned “great practitioner of Christian contemplation.”
On being bored with prayer: “Why is boredom such a testing ground? What does it tread so predictably—at least in some degree—on the heels of the dedicated person of prayer? Boredom is really a sign that the mind is beginning to assume, as it were, a posture of release and receptivity. Our thinking mind has a strong tendency to grasp, whether it is the grasp of comprehension or the grasping frenzy of mind-tripping. The thinking dimension of the mind needs to keep a tight grip on things. But when we move into the depths of prayer this grip has a way of becoming a pounding first in its demand to control and to understand. This fist of comprehension is gradually being softened and opened up during deep prayer, exposing a new depth of the mind, an engaged and receptive depth, that is deeper than what thinks, reacts, plots, and schemes. This depth of the mind is more like an open palm than a clenched fist. It does not grasp so much as release, receive, and let be. But because the thinking mind so dominates, there can be a bit of stiffness as it opens. This stiffness registers in the mind as boredom. With nothing for the grasping mind to do, it feels bored or even anxious.
What do we do in the presence of this boredom? Scratch our wrists. Sigh. Fidget. A story (difficult to source) is told of St. Teresa of Avila picking up her hourglass and shaking it in order to hurry it along. The saints and sages seem to know that it is important simply to sit still in the presence of boredom even if they are no good at doing it. Saint John of the Cross likens this to someone sitting for a portrait. It is important not to move. ‘If the model for the painting or retouching of a portrait should move because of a desire to something else, since it cannot do anything or think of anything in prayer, the artist would be unable to finish and the work would be spoiled.’ During this period of boredom in prayer, it is natural to try to get some sort of juice out of it, in the way of consoling feelings or inspiring insight. But it is of no use. This boredom is actually an indication that our prayer is going deeper than where our thoughts and feelings reach. Saint John of the Cross says that the more we try to prop ourselves up by thoughts and feelings ‘the more we will feel the lack of these, for this support cannot be supported through these sensory means.’ There is plenty of support from God who is the loving ground of our being, from whom nothing can separate us (Romans 8:35-38). But it is not accessible to the senses just now in the way that birdsong is or the smell of our burning supper.” (Martin Laird, A Sunlit Absence, p. 102-104.).
Suggestions for Action
“Spiritual boredom is an initiation into the desert and the making of any contemplative. As we journey deeper into this desert, we grow accustomed to the barrenness, and actually come to prefer it, though we might not realize this until we return to the hum of urban neon in our heads. Boredom heals by diminishing our reliable on this spiritual glitz that keeps us preoccupied with how our prayer is progressing” (ibid., 108-109)
Laird tells us that when we are bored in prayer, we might be ready for something new and something deeper. In one case, a woman who had developed a more content-filled prayer discipline needed to move toward contemplation in order to overcome her boredom. In another, contemplation was the starting point for overcoming boredom. Maybe it is the same for you.
Journal about whether you are bored in prayer, or bored in general. Ask God to liberate you from your boredom, but in fact, stay with your practice of prayer, and return to it. See your boredom simply as a result of our over-stimulation and your need for more of it, intellectual, emotional, and otherwise.
Find comfort in these words from Laird, once more, “It is crucial not to get caught up in the story we tell ourselves about the boredom, about how inadequate our prayer feels… On a practical level, it is important that we simply return to our practice” (ibid., 108).
So do so again today, return to your practice. Contemplate using your word and your breath. Doing so in a group can be helpful, especially if you have a chance to speak to one another afterward about your experience, especially, perhaps, your experience of boredom.