Again

I tense up slightly as I see my daughter toddling over to me holding the telltale green and blue box, replete with several cartoon dinosaurs staring up at me. “Me want to do dinosaur puzzle,” she says.

“Please,” I entreat. “Not the dinosaur puzzle. We’ve done the dinosaur puzzle six times today.” I can’t take the dinosaur puzzle again. I could put the Iguanadon and his friends together in my sleep. “Please, pick something else.”

Her eyes and chin start to do her trademark wobble, indicating that the begging is about to begin. “But, me want to do dinosaur puzzle with you,” she implores. I quickly scan the room and realize that my options of finding a better activity are, in all honestly, very slim. Even if I could convince her to do something else, what would it be? Pony coloring back? 3 times today. Dress up tea party? 4 times today. Give a stuffed animal a doctor check-up? 8 times today. She is in the age of learning by repetition, and dinosaur puzzle or not, I am being called to sit and watch her do something slowly that I have already sat and watched her do slowly several times today. “Fine,” I sigh. “Dinosaur puzzle.” “Yeah!” She squeals, and she upends its 48 large pieces onto the kitchen floor and ponderously begins unraveling its mysteries once again.

I sit next to her and bear witness to the saga as it unfolds. I’m not allowed to help, she can do it “all by meself;” I am merely supposed to confirm and encourage, and perhaps offer the occasionally helpful “oh, that doesn’t look quite right.”. At moments like this I am often tempted to retreat into a distraction. I pull out my phone and scan the news. I stand up and start to peruse the mail. But I can’t do this long before I get a small scowly face and a chiding, “Daddy, you not watching.” She knows when I’m not paying attention to her, or am only pretending to do so. “Sorry honey. Ok, I’m watching. Oh, look, you got another piece in.”

In my youth I always dreamed of having the chance to suffer mightily on behalf of others. I imagined I would be a missionary, braving cold, hunger, and every deprivation. I have rarely encountered such trials. However, one cross that I have frequently and fruitfully born is that of boredom.

Boredom is a hardship we don’t often think about because it’s so terribly unromantic. In fact, in our distracted, stimulation obsessed age boredom of any intensity, of any length of time, is seen as a vice. We flee from ourselves and our own thoughts, sometimes to the point of preferring pain just so we can have something to focus on.

In our collective flight from boredom, we frequently commit grave sin against ourselves and others. We ignore our children, because their tedious games bore us. We ignore our parents and the elderly, because we’ve already heard the stories they are going to tell. We ignore the dull or those less educated than ourselves, because their uninteresting conversation wastes our valuable time. Recently I had several parishioners tell me how tired they are of hearing about disaster relief and social justice protests – are we still talking about those things? Underlying all of these is the same subtle lie that is embedded in every sin – I am more important than you. My time is more important than your time. What I want is more important than what you need.

But perhaps the person I wound most gravely when I refuse to endure boredom is myself. For isn’t there something really sad and broken about someone, about all of us, when we stop seeing things for what they are? Every person I meet is a gift from God, is a son or daughter of the almighty. My boredom is caused by my blindness. As C.S. Lewis reminds us,

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship… there are no ordinary people. (The Weight of Glory).

Even boring tasks are frequently a chance to converse with God, and to remind oneself of the raw glory and wonder of mere existence. When I too quickly dismiss boredom with an external panacea, I miss the chance to fight through to the other side, where God renews my sight and becomes my vision.

courtesy of Steven Cottam

So I turn my attention back to the dinosaur puzzle… which is coming together, slowly but surely. The apatosaurus is half done now. My daughter’s toddling, repetitious play is just a phase, and the truth is I will sorely miss it when it has passed. My attention is my gift to her, and her reminder of what matters is her gift to me. Simone Weil said that “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” I will give it to as many as I can, and I will try to do so gladly. When it is hard I will merely ask God that, like all sacrifices made out of love, it might bear much fruit.

 

About the Rabble Rouser:

Steven-CottamSteven Cottam serves as youth minister at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. He lives in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia, with his lovely wife, adorable daughter and very strange dog. He is an active member of Common Change, a group which seeks to gather and distribute tithe money in a relational and collaborative way. He has been friends with Sister Julia ever since they were students, coworkers, and cooking club members together at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. His interests and passions include Aikido, gardening, coffee, and becoming a Jedi Master.

Fascination of the mundane

Guest blogger: Elizabeth Diedrich

“Hola. Hello. How are you?” For the past two years every conversation I have had with Carlos has been the exactly the same. “I am well. How are you?” Or every once in a while I will respond in Spanish. “Buena. Como estas?” Then, Carlos in his heavy accent laughs at me and says, “Good. Thank you.” You have candy for throat?” I hand him his chough drops and he leaves the office.

Around André House everyone knows Carlos. He has a very distinct voice and he has some version of the same conversation with everyone. Actually, he has the same conversation with a person each time he sees that person. This means I may say “Hello. How are you?” with Carlos five times a day. Two years of the same conversation. I never really thought about this.

Then one day we had a different conversation.

Pencil, notebook and eraser

It was just Carlos and me in the office and he asked for a pencil, eraser and pencil sharpener. He told me he likes to draw. He picked up a small piece of paper, a piece no larger than a playing card, and sat in front of me at the desk and drew me a picture. He drew a simple picture of reeds, a fish, birds, a scene from a pond. I was mesmerized as he drew. It was not his drawing that was mesmerizing; it was that after two years of exactly the same conversation Carlos was now a different person to me. He had learned my name two years ago and had practiced many times saying it correctly. Today, as his drawing was finished he took a second piece of paper and practiced writing my name. Eight times he practiced writing my name.

It is easy for life to become mundane. It is easy to become caught up the daily grind. It is easy to follow the in and out of a daily schedule. How often do you sit down at the end of the day and you cannot even remember everything that you did throughout the day? I think this is especially true in relationships. It is easy to become static in relationships. I can often see this very clearly in community. After 10 months together we can exchange thoughts without words, we can predict when a person will not be able to follow through, we know each others’ likes and dislikes and can read each other with fairly good accuracy. This brings comfort and fluidity to our daily work.

Yet, it also inhibits us from challenging each other and being open to listening.

Similarly with family or friends, often conversations operate on a superficial level and lack the depth that brings about new ideas and the possibility of transformation. I think what we need more of is a healthy, childlike fascination with our daily events and the people in our lives. Fascination is a strong word, but I think it is the best one to describe what is needed to make a relationship flourish.

In the preface of The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell writes: “Our instinct as humans, after all, is to assume that most things are not interesting. We flip through the channels on the television and reject ten before we settle on one. We go to a bookstore and look at twenty novels before we pick the one we want. We filter and rank and judge.” Gladwell suggests that we must move beyond our human instinct and develop a constant consciousness to our lack of knowledge of each other in order to gives us the freedom to continue to learn and transform relationships.

Furthermore, a constant fascination of apparently mundane events grants us the ability to see the miracles of our daily lives. It may seem awkward to try and hold a conscious fascination with the world, but if you take a moment, take a breath, and stop to wonder and awe miracles will appear everywhere.

Photo credit: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/34348