OK, so I don’t think you’ll find anything written by Thomas Merton or Richard Foster; but in support of spiritual practices being relevant to cultural context, I think we might need to consider the spiritual discipline of boredom.
I remember being bored as a child… but I’d be super curious to hear from anyone under 35 to see if they remember being bored as a child. I was raised back east and have spent most of my adult years in the Midwest. Both regions have now given boredom the status of sin, I think. Long, long ago – when I was around eight years old – most businesses in my city of origin were closed on Sundays. After church we’d go home and eat lunch and then it would seem as if the afternoon stretched on into infinity. There was nothing to do. Sometimes I played with a neighborhood friend. But, if she wasn’t around or available, I would have to figure out a way to entertain myself. And so, I got pretty good at playing jacks, I was awesome at walking up stairs on stilts (a trick I was careful to keep hidden from my mother). And I “cooked” strange and exotic dishes by mixing all kinds of curious substances found in nature. (Don’t worry; I never actually ate any of them; but the textures they created were fascinating.)
Today, for the most part, children don’t need to worry about boredom. We keep them as busy as we keep ourselves. The only downtime it seems they get are hours spent in cars, vans or buses en route to contests, games, tournaments, etc.
I read an article a few years back about the brain and multi-tasking. Ironically, the skills we need to multi-task can only be developed during times of intense focus. In other words, to effectively speed up, we have to have purposeful times of slowing down. I think we religious folk call that Sabbath. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying we need to go back to those days when all the businesses were closed on Sundays… which, if you’re Jewish or Muslim would be pretty annoying I imagine. But it seems we ought to be able to grant ourselves – and our children – some down time without necessarily legislating it. I still find that I do my best creative thinking on “days off.”
I wonder about our future as a culture. We’ve programmed our children to avoid boredom at all costs. I think it’s “threat level” is right up there with ISIS and Ebola. If we had images of the brains of eight year old’s from the past four decades, I wonder if we could see differences over time as we’ve gradually cultivated a culture that avoids, even sabotages any potential down time.
Jews and Christians share that epic story of Elijah on Mt. Horeb; that story in which God speaks not through the fire, wind or earthquake, but in the silence. Hmm… We could find a lot to ruminate over in that story. But time is a wasting and I’d better get back to work.