At noon today I made a first-ever visit to the Abbey of Regina Laudis at Bethlehem, Connecticut. Sweeping east to west from Portland I arrived within about an hour. Entering the monastery grounds off Flanders Road I drove slowly uphill, keeping my eyes on the signs. I spied the Chapel where I knew prayer would be taking place at noontime. I was there early and settled into the simple knotty pine chapel while one of the nuns arranged flowers and plants near the altar. Other visitors came in for prayers, only one other male among them, a boy of (I would say) about 6 years on the planet. He was there in the company of his older sister and two women.
[Photo: Father Jack SJ MD]
As the place was so quiet, the pre-prayer conversation of that little group was heard by default. The boy turned to one of the women and raised a perceptive question: "Do the sisters," he asked, "ever get bored?" I do not recall his mom or aunt's response, but the question got me thinking. "Do the sisters ever get bored?"
First of all the question implies (and not for the first time) that one of the worst things that can happen to us in the 21st century is to be bored. I suspect, in fact, that living as human beings together in community, there may well be boredom as well as excitement, contentment, wonderment, and all the other quite human responses to living in the experience of the nuns.
But my next thought was this: what a wonderful thing! To be bored. The very possibility, in the context of the 'real world' (as it is sometimes called outside monastic enclosures) strikes me as heavenly. In a world situation in which, within hours of our gathering there at Bethlehem to pray, north Korea launched their second intercontinental ballistic missile of this month, evidencing capacity to reach many of the major metropolitan areas of the USA, according to news reports including Denver, Chicago and New York; in this context, boredom sounds like a blessing. In a world in which, I cannot at this point say different or less, the USA itself boasts a chief executive who, if at all, is revealed in his stream-of-consciouness tweets to be only marginally less bizarre than north Korea's Kim Jong Un, yes, boredom is worthy of embrace, welcome, and thanks, were it to arrive.
The word 'bore' and its eventual application to human persons showed up only in the very late 18th century. Decades later the variant 'boredom' was born apparently from the pen of the great Charles Dickens in his novel Bleak House of 1852. And boredom has been more and more in our daily speech every since. And more and more dreaded. Its origins may include the work of a drill, a hole-boring tool, which methodically and without excitement produces a hole in a material. And so the piece of wood is 'bored' by the drill.
Which brings us back to the nuns of Regina Laudis, who gathered this midday and gave praise to God in sung psalmody for some twenty minutes in gentle Latin. To some, I suppose, that gathering itself might seem boring. But underneath the chant melodies, below the syllables of the words of Scripture, deep within the daily round of ora et labora that characterizes the daily life of the sisters as it does Benedictines around the world, it may well be that the finger of God is boring a hole through the hearts and minds and souls, through the humanity of the women who make up that monastic community. Day by day, hour by hour, syllable by syllable, they are making themselves available to the work of the Sculptor who bores where humans in their freedom allow, and there creates Christs who live and teach and love and pray and offer themselves every day for the love of this crazed thing that the rest of us call the real world.
Only the end of time will reveal where reality really kept its house.
A sweet addendum: as prayer ended today in the Chapel at Bethlehem, one of the adults accompanying brother and sister looked toward the nuns praying beyond the altar, behind the grill (a kind of rood screen) and beautifully noted, "We serve Jesus on this side, and they serve Jesus on that side." In Jesus then there is just one side. And when we pray together, it is all 'real.'