Being Bored – 18/07/21
Opening Music: ‘Interlude – Lloyd’ performed by Peter Crockford
Opening Words of Welcome: adapted from Amy McKenzie Quinn and Elena Westbrook
Welcome to this common, sacred space.
Common, because we are all welcome.
Sacred, because here we transform the ordinary
and attend to the profound.
We carry with us our regrets, doubts, fears, stories, laughter;
may they inspire our worship.
Above all, may we each meet what we need most to find,
On this day, in this common, sacred space.
In a world beset by troubles
that seem eternal and insoluble,
sometimes the only thing we can do
is be still for a moment
to remind ourselves what is real:
the sun that rose again this morning,
the dirt beneath our feet,
the air whispering in and out of our lungs.
This hour, try just to be present in each moment as it unfolds.
Your simple attention is what makes these moments holy.
These words by Amy McKenzie Quinn and Elena Westbrook welcome all who have gathered here on Zoom for our Sunday service. Welcome to regular members of the congregation, to friends and visitors with us today – also those who might be listening to our podcast, or catching up on YouTube, at some time in the future. For those who don’t know me, my name is Jane Blackall, and having been part of the congregation for 22 years I’m now Ministry Coordinator here and also a Ministry Student finishing up my training at Unitarian College this summer.
This morning’s service is on the theme of ‘Being Bored’ – a quirky topic suggested in one of our coffee mornings a few months ago – and I’ll be stitching together contributions from members of the congregation John Humphreys, Maria Petnga-Wallace, and Liz Tuckwell, which explore the experience of being bored and (perhaps) the ways in which a bit of boredom might be good for us.
Before we go any further, though, let’s take a moment to make sure we’ve fully arrived. Do what you need to do to settle in – you might want to wiggle and stretch first – scrunch your shoulders up and let them go – or perhaps take one conscious breath… Set aside, if you can, anything that you don’t need to think about for the next hour. And do feel free to turn your camera off if that makes it easier for you to focus – of course we like to see all your lovely faces – but if you prefer to lurk that’s fine. There’ll be various opportunities to join in as we go along but all are entirely optional. Whoever you are, however you are, you are welcome in this gathering, just as you are.
Chalice Lighting: ‘Connected through the Web of Life’ by Jennifer Gracen (adapted)
And now I’ll light our chalice, as we do each Sunday, and at other times when we gather. This simple ritual connects us with Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists the world over, and reminds us of the proudly progressive religious tradition of which this gathering is part.
We light this chalice, symbol of our purpose
to bring more love and justice into the world.
We light this chalice, knowing our congregation
as a church dispersed across communities,
not bound by walls but connected through the web of life.
Candles of Joy and Concern:
Each week when we gather together, whether it’s in person at the church in Kensington or here as an online congregation, we share a simple ritual of candles of joy and concern, an opportunity to light a candle and share something that is in our heart with the community. So we’ve got a good few minutes now, for anyone who would like to do so, to light a candle (real or imaginary) and say a few words about what it represents. When you’re ready to speak, unmute your microphone so we can all hear you, and then re-mute yourself once you’ve finished. And if you seem to be having trouble unmuting yourself please wave and one of the co-hosts will try to help with the unmuting. If you are going to speak, please be aware of how long you’re speaking for, so that there’s enough time for everyone who might want to speak. Let’s leave a pause between one candle and the next, so we can honour what’s been shared. And don’t worry too much if two people end up speaking at the same time, or there’s a technical hitch of some sort – these things happen on Zoom – please do persevere! At this point it’d be nice, if you can, to switch to gallery view so we can all see everybody.
(candles – thank each person)
I’ve got one more candle here and – as we often do – I’m going to light that to represent all those joys and concerns that we might be holding silently in our heart today, those stories which we don’t feel able to share out loud this morning. Let’s take a moment now to think of all those joys and concerns we have heard expressed… all those little windows into our shared human condition and the life of the world we share… and let’s hold them – and each other – in a spirit of loving-kindness for a moment or two.
And let’s take those joys and concerns into an extended time of prayer now.
Prayer: based on words by Tamara Lebak
You might first want to adjust your position for comfort, close your eyes, or soften your gaze. There might be a posture that helps you feel more prayerful. Whatever works for you.
Do whatever you need to do to get into the right state of body and mind for us to pray together – to be fully present here and now, in this sacred time and space – with ourselves, with each other, and with that which is both within us and beyond us. (pause)
Spirit of Life, God of All Love,
in whom we live and move and have our being.
As we turn our attention to the depths of this life –
the cosmic mystery and wisdom that abides in All-That-Is –
we tune in to your Holy presence within us and amongst us.
We gather this day to be reminded of the sacred in the ordinary.
The holy moments of waking yet again to a new day.
The feel of the earth beneath our feet
The sun and the breeze on our skin
The joy of being welcomed by our fellow travellers
The warmth of this gathered community.
Help us this day to be fully present in our living,
awake to each breath, attentive to the possibilities.
Remind us that Life is taking place in the in-between,
the seasons of lethargy, disappointment, and frustration,
as well as in our lofty goals and peak experiences.
Remind us that the detours and the details
craft the path, and make it our own.
Help us to remember that we did not make this day.
But that we have the pleasure to greet each moment as it unfolds;
To reach out and embrace it wholeheartedly as though it were
an honoured guest who has come a long way just to see us.
In a quiet moment now, let us look back over the week just gone, to take stock of it all –
the many cares and concerns that hit close to home – and all those concentric circles of concern rippling outwards around the globe – ‘til they enfold all those many lives which touch our own.
Let’s take a little while to lift up the prayers of our hearts in a few moments of shared silence.
And let us also take a moment to notice all the good that has happened in the past week –
moments of uplift and delight; beauty and pleasure; all those acts of generosity and kindness.
Despite everything, we can see that so many choose to act responsibly, and for the common good.
There’s lots to be grateful for. So let’s take a little while to sit quietly in prayer and give thanks.
Spirit of Life – God of all Love – as this time of prayer comes to a close,
we offer up our joys and concerns, our hopes and fears,
our beauty and brokenness, and call on you for insight, healing, and renewal.
As we look forward now to the coming week,
help us to live well each day and be our best selves;
using our unique gifts in the service of love, justice and peace. Amen.
Hymn: ‘Let Us Give Thanks and Praise’ by the Unitarian Music Society
Our first hymn today is called ‘Let Us Give Thanks and Praise’. In a way it’s an extension of our prayers; an expression of gratitude for all the good in our lives, and something of an aspiration too, that we will each do our bit to bring love, healing, and liberation to all with whom we share this planet. The words will appear on screen in a moment for you to sing along – we’ll try to make sure you all stay muted – but if you don’t fancy singing it’s absolutely fine to just listen instead.
Let us give thanks and praise for the gifts which we share,
for our food and our friendship, for water and air,
for the earth and the sky and the stars and the sea,
and the trust we all have in God’s love flowing free.
Give a shout of amazement at what life can bring,
put your heart into raising the song all can sing.
What a world we could build with our minds and our hands
where the people live freely and God understands.
Let us give of our best with the tools we shall need,
use our eyes, hands and brains so that we may succeed.
Inspire us to cultivate what we have sown
so that nature and nurture make a world we may own.
We adore you, great Mother, O help us to live
with a love for each other that each one can give
let the pain of our brothers and sisters be faced
and the healing of all souls on earth be embraced.
‘Thoughts on Boredom’ by John Humphreys:
When I was asked to share some thoughts on boredom, it was put on a list of things to do. This existed first in my thoughts, and then was written down as the deadline approached. It became increasingly irritating that I avoided completing the task.
To get me started, I looked at some definitions
- the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest
- boredom is marked by an empty feeling, as well as a sense of frustration with that emptiness. When you are bored, you may feel apathetic, fatigued, nervous or jittery
- boredom is a prevalent emotion with potential negative consequences. Research has associated boredom with outcomes indicating both high and low levels of arousal and activation
I read the abstract of this study and found it pretty boring but did discover that bored people usually have a collapsed upper body, lean their heads backwards, and display low and expansive bodily movements.
Then I asked my 9 year old granddaughter what boredom meant to her. Quick as a flash and surrounded by books, art materials, musical instruments, and multiple electronic devices she said “When there’s nothing to do”.
Somehow I completely identified with her response, and it brought up a clear memory of when I was her age and was home for the weekend from my boarding school.
It was a Sunday afternoon and my parents were sitting dozing after lunch. I probably was thinking about returning to school later that day when I would have to attend an evening service before going to my dormitory for what always seemed far too early lights out. Nothing seemed worth doing and then the radio announced ‘Sing Something Simple’ with the Cliff Adams singers.
Now, I have rediscovered the joys of singing but at the time, this radio programme, apparently the longest running continuous music programme in the world, provided the perfect background to a sensation of intense boredom that I can almost taste to this day.
I was discussing this with an old friend when out walking recently and mentioned how that piece of music crystallized boredom for me. She also listened to the programme, but said it always made her feel excited about going back to school the next day and all the new and familiar activities she would participate in.
So to return to my granddaughter’s view on boredom that it reflects a state of ‘nothing to do’ we talked a little more and we agreed that it was more of a state of ‘nothing I want to do’ even though choices of activity were available.
I feel grateful that I exist in a place and time when not all my waking hours are consumed by meeting basic needs of obtaining food, clean water, shelter and security. So to even admit to feelings of boredom can be closely followed by guilt and self-criticism. Why not take action and fulfil the opportunities given to those with time on their hands. Perhaps this reluctance is the state the philosophers describe:
- Profound boredom, drifting here and there in the abysses of our own existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference.
- For if life, in the desire for which our essence and existence consists, possessed in itself a positive value and real content, there would be no such thing as boredom, mere existence would fulfil and satisfy us.
These words by Schopenhauer seem to me to provide an antidote to boredom by returning again and again to the present moment of existence. Sometimes, maybe often, it will be boring but it can also provide a doorway to my spiritual life.
Meditation: ‘Bored’ by Margaret Atwood:
Thanks John – and I particularly want to thank John – as he was the one who suggested today’s quirky theme! We’ve come now to a time of meditation. I’m going to share a poem by Margaret Atwood to take us into a time of meditation. The poem will be followed by a few minutes of shared stillness during which we’ll have our virtual chalice on screen in case you like to focus on the flame. The silence will come to an end with some a song performed by Trevor Alexander and Peter Crockford, it’s a lovely rendition of ‘Being Boring’, a song originally by the Pet Shop Boys. So let’s each do what we need to do to get comfortable – have a wiggle if you need to – perhaps put your feet flat on the floor to help ground and steady yourself – maybe close your eyes. And as I always say, these words, these images, this music, it’s just an offering – feel free to meditate in your own way. Some words by Margaret Atwood now to take us into our time of meditation:
All those times I was bored
out of my mind. Holding the log
while he sawed it. Holding
the string while he measured, boards,
distances between things, or pounded
stakes into the ground for rows and rows
of lettuces and beets, which I then (bored)
weeded. Or sat in the back
of the car, or sat still in boats,
sat, sat, while at the prow, stern, wheel
he drove, steered, paddled. It
wasn’t even boredom, it was looking,
looking hard and up close at the small
details. Myopia. The worn gunwales,
the intricate twill of the seat
cover. The acid crumbs of loam, the granular
pink rock, its igneous veins, the sea-fans
of dry moss, the blackish and then the graying
bristles on the back of his neck.
Sometimes he would whistle, sometimes
I would. The boring rhythm of doing
things over and over, carrying
the wood, drying
the dishes. Such minutiae. It’s what
the animals spend most of their time at,
ferrying the sand, grain by grain, from their tunnels,
shuffling the leaves in their burrows. He pointed
such things out, and I would look
at the whorled texture of his square finger, earth under
the nail. Why do I remember it as sunnier
all the time then, although it more often
rained, and more birdsong?
I could hardly wait to get
the hell out of there to
anywhere else. Perhaps though
boredom is happier. It is for dogs or
groundhogs. Now I wouldn’t be bored.
Now I would know too much.
Now I would know.
Silence: chalice cam video (3 minutes)
Musical Interlude: ‘Being Boring’ performed by Peter Crockford and Trevor Alexander
‘Being Bored’ by Maria Petnga-Wallace
I don’t get bored
I’ve been this way since young
To stand in a queue
Watch the rain
Sit for hours
On a train
Take in the views
Content in my thoughts, caught up in my daydreams
‘creative but a bit of a daydreamer’
My teacher would retort
In my secondary report
Though in worklife this time for pause
Was not applauded
On the go
On the constant go was rewarded
Think on your feet
Hit the ground running
Get things done
Speed rewarded, applauded
Reflection on work and worth
Replaced with another back to back meeting
In motherhood to seek time of boredom and stillness
I would often give my son a gadget
Instant quiet from the wrestling mania
Moaning, arguing or just
What this means is my son’s haven’t experienced boredom
Their entertainment is always there
YouTube doesn’t switch off
And neither to they
For prep for this poem
I imposed a stop button
‘No gadgets until dinner’
Responses of Why? Confusion replaced with anger!
‘What am I supposed to do?’
Nothing! My reply
Disdain progressed to complaint
Pleading leading to begging
Pure boredom leading to
Of books on the shelf untouched for
the moments and minutes of quiet
are pierced with shouts of excitement, I assume he’s sneaked a peak
at a match on his screen, only to hear
‘Yes I’ve found a word in my wordsearch I couldn’t see for weeks!’
The strain of boredom overcome by rio’s pure excitement in finding
A missing word
its power needs no electric
The page opening is it’s magique
It’s power is instantly on by a simple page turning
Jampacked with stories, mysteries and conundrums
Always ready for rio’s next bout of boredom
Disclaimer: rio would like me to say that he doesn’t only read when he’s bored, but I’m not so sure.
‘May You Live in Uninteresting Times’ by Liz Tuckwell
At a recent coffee morning, the subject of boredom came up (we do have some interesting conversations at the coffee mornings but that’s another story. It inspired Jane with the idea of having it as the theme for an address, and she asked a few people to write a mini reflection for today’s service.
When I started thinking about boredom, the first thing that came to mind was the saying, “May you live in interesting times”.
It sounds like a blessing but in reality it’s a curse. As a “curse” it means that interesting times are usually full of turmoil and difficulty, and it conveys the somewhat disheartening reflection about human nature – that trouble an strife always seem more interesting to us than order and calm. There are certainly far more books written about war and famine, than about peace and plenty.
This is commonly supposed to be an ancient Chinese curse. In fact, as I discovered, when I researched the saying’s origins, it’s modern and Western, It travelled through the British diplomatic core from the 1830’s to the 1930’s.
Senator Robert Kennedy used it in a speech in Cape Town, June 1966. He said:
There is a Chinese curse which says, “May you live in interesting times.” Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty, but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than in any other time in history.
He meant that the 1960s were interesting because of all the fear that people had over what the future would hold. That certainly rings a bell with us today because we too fear what the future holds. But I think he was also right about the creative energy.
I also discovered an interesting speech by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks dated 31 August 2017, and here is part of that speech.
There is an old Chinese curse which goes, “May you live in interesting times.” We are living in interesting times. Sometimes, I think the world has gone so crazy that the best account of it was that wonderful remark by Woody Allen: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.” Well, that’s how it seems sometimes.
Or it seems like my favourite Jewish text of all time, which goes, “Start worrying. Details to follow.” Because the truth is we are living through one of the most profound revolutions in all of human history. It is a time of political economic and social change brought about by the internet; a revolution which is the greatest and most fateful since the invention of printing in the West in the 15th century. I sum it up in a single phrase: “Cultural climate change.” We are worrying about our physical climate change and that climate change doesn’t just make things warmer. What it does is produce more extreme weather conditions, and so it is with cultural climate change. It’s not just extreme heat, but sometimes it expresses itself in the cold and the wind and the rain.
That was written in 2017, and now we have the global pandemic to contend with as well so we’re living in even more interesting times. After reading or watching about the pandemic, tragedies, politics, war-mongering, and so, have you longer for simpler, less turbulent times? Think how difficult and frustrating it is to choose among the twenty varieties of coffee offered at the coffee shop or the 138 channels on digital TV. However, we can’t turn back the clock.
I want to end with words written by the editor of the American Pharmaceutical Review. He said that his mother was fond of saying that “boring is good” when it came to life. However, he preferred “uninteresting”. So, perhaps being bored sometimes is not such a bad thing. Perhaps we could have a new blessing – “May you live in uninteresting times.”
Hymn: ‘When the Song of Life is Ringing’ performed by Kensington Unitarians
Thank you Liz and Maria, and John, for your reflections on ‘being bored’ and what we can learn from it. Time for one last chance to sing together now. This hymn, ‘When the Song of Life is Ringing’, speaks of the changing moods of our lives – highs and lows – and it calls us to trust in that which is constant and good even though the rough (and the boring) times we might endure along the way. This is a recording of own congregation recorded a few years ago so you might hear voices that you recognise, or rustling, or coughing (as we didn’t know at the time we’d ever listen to it again). As always we’ll try to make sure you’re muted so feel free to sing or listen as you’d rather.
When the song of life is ringing
through the green fields and the wood
and the love of God is singing
in your mind and in your blood,
holy angels come to give you
wondrous gifts of joy and peace;
and the soul will leap with rapture
in a dance of glad release.
But when life’s harsh road has brought us
only hurt and grief and pain
and the darkness hides the promise
we feel now was made in vain,
sad the song we sing amidst tears
from the well of human woe,
for no angels’ song the soul hears,
where the heart is stricken low.
Yet in life, if we stay faithful
to the trust we cannot shake,
if we honour our creator
with this life we did not make,
we shall find how God supports us –
God who’s true in everything –
brings us through the dark and lean times
to that place where angels sing.
Thanks to Corrina for co-hosting today for the first time, and Jeannene for the huge amount of work she’s done behind the scenes to assist, to Peter Crockford and Trevor Alexander for our music, and to John, Liz and Maria for their reflections. There are a number of opportunities to connect in the week ahead: Coffee morning on Zoom at 10.30 on Tuesday. You can still sign up for Heart and Soul, our contemplative spiritual gathering, 7pm tonight on the theme of ‘Life’.
Looking further ahead: Save the date for a GreenSpirit Lammas picnic which is due to take place on Saturday 31st July. And there’s a national Unitarian event coming up (online) in a few weeks – for the second year running Hucklow Summer School will take place on Zoom over a week of evenings in late August – there’ll be an opening ceremony led by yours truly on Saturday 21st, and then a week of theme talks by prominent Unitarian thinkers – all exploring the question ‘Why Are We Here? Discerning our Unitarian Mission in an Upturned World’. During these events we will be considering the question ‘What is our church for, anyway?’, examining how the landscape of ‘doing church’ has changed (especially during the last eighteen months), pondering how we can flex and adapt in turbulent times while remaining true to our religious roots, and offering some constructive visions for Unitarianism in the challenging landscape of the twenty-first century. Details are in the weekly email – you need to sign up to get the joining details.
Don’t forget we’ll have virtual coffee-time afterwards, chat in small groups, if you’d like. And if you can bear it we like to take a group photo after the closing music so stick around.
We’ll be back again on Zoom next week at 10am so tell your friends. It’s fine to share the link. And feel free to drop us a line during the week to get in touch if you’d like to say hello.
We’ve just got some brief closing words now, followed by some closing music from Peter. So I invite you to select gallery view at this point so we can all see each other and get a sense of our community-and-connectedness for this closing.
Closing Words: ‘To Take Life Whole’ by Kendyl R. Gibbons (adapted)
As we take our leave, and face the week ahead – whatever it may bring –
let us recall that there is, finally, only one thing required of us:
that is, to take life whole, the sunlight and shadows together;
to live the life that is given us with courage and humour and truth.
We have such a little moment out of the vastness of time
for all our wondering and wandering, living and loving.
Therefore let there be no half-heartedness or aimless drifting;
rather, let the soul be ardent in its pain, in its yearning, in its praise.
And may peace enfold our days as we meet the days to come. Amen.
Closing Music: ‘Smile’ performed by Trevor Alexander and Peter Crockford
18th July 2021