Boredom matters, writes Michael Raposa, because it represents a threat to spiritual life. Boredom can undermine prayer and meditation and signal the failure of religious imagination. If you engage it seriously, however, it can also be the starting point for philosophical reflection and spiritual insight. It can serve as a prelude to the discovery or rebirth of religious meaning.
Boredom, then, is a paradox, surprisingly complex and ambiguous. Being bored with someone or something can represent a trivial matter--being bored with one's clothes or a magazine article--or a matter of significant consequence--being bored with one's marriage or the music one loves to play. Boredom can signify a moral failure or the presence of virtue. Appreciating the value of boredom does not require that one welcome, much less celebrate, its occurrence. Raposa simply invites us to pay attention to boredom's many possible lessons.
The principal methods Raposa employs are philosophical. Drawing on Peirce's idea that all experience is interpreted experience, Raposa sees boredom as a failure of interpretation, an inability to read signs in life as religiously meaningful. The Gospel of Mark depicts a prayerful and passionate Jesus juxtaposed with his drowsy disciples in Gethsemane. Their failure to discern what is happening in their midst, Raposa suggests, is a powerful example of what medieval Christian theologians called acedia, their term for boredom with the rituals of spiritual devotion. But these descriptions of acedia bear a striking resemblance to mystical accounts of the "dark night," a terrifying but necessary stage in the mystic's spiritual journey.
Drawing on this notion and others from eastern and western religious traditions, Raposa asks us to see boredom playing an ambivalent role in spiritual life, often serving as a metaphorical midwife for the birth of religious knowledge. His subject, he admits, seems tongue-in-cheek at first, but a stunning depth is quickly revealed. His lucid, witty, and intelligent discussion offers a path to the kind of meaning that is a fundamental desideratum in human experience.