We weren't there for a directed retreat with a program. We were simply on our own, enjoying the hospitality of the Benedictine sisters and left to fill the day for ourselves.
When you have that much time on your hands, along with being electronically unplugged, you can start to get bored. Or at least I can get bored. I'm not a natural contemplative. But the boredom made me think of something the author and theologian James Alison has written about worship in a violent world. At one point in his analysis Alison makes a point about why the Mass is boring (Alison is Catholic). He says this:
When people tell me that they find Mass boring, I want to say to them: it's supposed to be boring, or at least seriously underwhelming. It's a long term education in becoming un-excited...Alison is making the argument that the world tends to function as a Nuremberg rally where everything around us--from political discourse to advertising to social media--is trying to whip us up into a frenzy. A frenzy that, more often than not, is directed against others. Cable news, talk radio and political blogging are basically a Nuremberg rally, an attempt to anger us and excite us with propaganda. In the face of all this excitement and frenzy Christian worship, according to Alison, should function as a sort of counter-propaganda, a place where we can become unexcited. Where others are whipped into an anxious or angry frenzy Christians should be bored.
This line of argument reminded me of a recent article I read by Carl McColman entitled "A Contemplative Revolution." McColman makes the argument that contemplation can be a form of resistance, a way to fight against the principalities and powers. The idea here is similar to the one Alison makes, a "dropping out" of the frenzy:
[C]ontemplation represents a way to disengage from the toxicity of our current world order, not in terms of supporting violent revolution, but in an opposite move: by embracing a revolution of humility and love. We cannot beat the greedy, violent, unjust enemy-that-is-us with weapons or military might. Only by "dropping out" of the system can we hope to overcome it with a new way of living. What is this new way? A way of reconciliation rather than violence, of shared resources rather than enforced inequity, a way of simply and quietly living rather than getting caught up in the ever-increasing frenzy of acquisition and competition. Such values are the fruit of contemplation. They are the values that monasteries embody, if imperfectly. They are the values of resistance.Along these same lines, I also recently read Eric Anglada's article for Jesus Radicals entitled "A Contemplative Anarchism: Re-Introducing Gustav Landauer." I don't know Landauer, but I found Eric's description of a "contemplative anarchy" to be very interesting. Eric writes,
Landauer did not believe that we need to wait for ‘The Revolution’ to topple ‘The System.’ Instead, it is something we can begin now by “relating to one another differently.” Rather than ‘smashing the state,’ Landauer sought to ‘opt out’—that is, refuse to give any positive energy to the state through voting, lobbying, or paying taxes.Whatever you think about refusing to vote or not paying taxes, the part that interests me is the notion of opting out and refusing to give any positive energy to the system, all in the effort of relating to others more humanely. This contemplative "opting out" is similar to McColman's contemplative "dropping out" and Alison's liturgical boredom. And each is described as resistance, anarchism, or as counter-propaganda.
So in light of all this I'm thinking about being a part of a boredom revolution. This election year, as Nuremberg-levels of propaganda and mass hysteria escalate, I'm working on cultivating "the values of resistance"--opting out, dropping out, and expressing boredom with it all.