A note from the blogger: During the time that I was preparing the recent series of blogs on the Divine Liturgy, I was also reading the book Help! I’m Bored in Church, by Fr. David Smith. It was timely to be reading it while I researched and wrote those blogs. I found it so helpful that I decided to share a few of my gleanings from the book with you. So here is a “bonus” blog on the Divine Liturgy, in case you ever feel bored in church.
The title of Fr. David Smith’s book Help! I’m Bored in Church caught my attention from the moment I saw it. I mean, who HASN’T felt bored in church? Maybe a few people haven’t, but in this entertainment-overload society, I for one have “felt” (or, perhaps, “chosen to feel”) bored in church, and I am certain that I am not alone. The title caught me, and the tagline Entering Fully into Worship in the Divine Liturgy only enhanced my desire to read this book. So I began, and here is what I found: honesty, truth, and logical steps towards being more involved in the Divine Liturgy, served up with a delightful touch of humor. (And Fr. David says things so well that I will use many of his quotes, straight up: rewording would be inadequate.)
“My original title for this book was Church is Boring. You might react to that title by saying, ‘Of course it’s boring. Finally you’re admitting it.’ If even priests admit that church is boring, then that settles it. We can all stay home and sleep in on Sundays.
“Or perhaps you think it’s irreverent to say, ‘Church is boring.’ You’re thinking, ‘It’s not right for you to speak about the Divine Liturgy like that. If the priest says church is boring, he shouldn’t be a priest.’ You don’t find church boring, and your only complaint is that it’s not longer.
“Or it’s more likely that you’re in the middle. Church seems boring at times, yes. But there’s something good about church as well, and so saying ‘church is boring’ makes you a little uncomfortable…” (p. 5)
Fr. David goes on to explain that the fact that we are sometimes bored in church actually says something about US, not about the Church. He encourages his readers to change. “You can’t make the Divine Liturgy any shorter, but you can accomplish something within yourself that makes the time you spend in the Liturgy an experience of spiritual delight. Useful. Necessary. Something you look forward to.” (p. 6)
“Look at it this way: If you feel cold, you put on a coat… What do you do if you feel bored? I’ll tell you, you need to do something. It’s a sad and pathetic person who is cold and says, ‘I’m cold but I don’t care enough about myself to put on a coat. I’ll just suffer and be unhappy.’ Would you do that? Certainly not! Well, don’t do it when you’re bored in church either. This is your challenge: Discover the coat you need to put on, and then—put it on! I’ll give you the answer which has worked for me: The coat consists of prayer and watchfulness…” (p. 9)
The book goes on to explore “six reasons people sometimes feel bored in church, five ways to think about your priest, four ways you can participate more fully in services, three kinds of waiting, two kinds of prayer, and the one thing truly needful in our relationship with God…” (from the back cover) Fr. David walks the reader through each part of the book quoting from scripture, the lives of the saints, and personal experience.
We have talked in recent blog posts about the Divine Liturgy being “the work of the people,” or “the offering of the people for the whole world.” Fr. David suggests that actually DOING that work or offering will keep us from experiencing boredom in church. Being fully present during the Divine Liturgy, adding our voices to the singing, praying for those we know (and those we don’t), etc., are all things we should be doing as our portion of that offering. And they will help us maintain control over our wandering, “I’m bored,” mindset. But what is the most important thing for us to do in the Divine Liturgy? “What is your work? If you’re standing in church during the Divine Liturgy, you really only have one task: to worship God. I find the words of our Lord to be very comforting because they’re so clear. But they also make me see that watchfulness… is not an option, it’s a necessity: ‘What I say to you I say to all: Watch!’” (pp. 107-108)
However, that one task of worshipping God fully is not necessarily an easy one. Fr. David asks, “Where is your mind when your body’s in church?” (p. 110) He goes on to explain that the one thing that we need most of all in our relationship with God, so that we can best worship Him, is silence. Our minds don’t like it, especially in this age of continuous information and entertainment, but we need it desperately. “Silence frees us from the weight of the world, but our minds like the weight of the world. Our minds get frightened and bored easily.
“The first time I put my dog in a car, when he was a puppy, he was so nervous he threw up. I told him we were in the car in order to go to the best dog-walking place in the entire universe, but he couldn’t hear me. He tried to keep his eyes away from the windows so he would not see the world flying by faster than he could imagine. He was shivering all over as if he were freezing, even though it was a hot day.
“Today, he launches into a frenzy of barking and spinning in little circles when he hears the word car. He loves the car. It takes him places he wants to go (usually). So it is with silence. When you first try it, your mind starts pacing like a coke addict on his first day in rehab. It yells, I don’t like this! a hundred times. It rapidly starts suggesting other things you could be doing. But when you embrace silence and learn to use it as a tool that (spiritually) takes you places you want to go, you start looking forward to it and long for it when you’re not getting enough.” (pp. 120-121)
Fr. David finishes with, “Is church sometimes boring? And could it be that I’m actually offering silence as a solution? Yes to both. You and I are both citizens in a world that is under the control of the enemy. He knows your weakest point is your mind, and he will do whatever he can to win you to his side. His only weapon, since our Lord took suffering and death away from him, is distraction. Noise and toys. Can he really swing something shiny in front of your face and get you to forget the love and mercy of God? I don’t know about you, but I’ll admit that, yes, it works on me more often than I would like to admit.
“What we’ve done here is to try to stop this from happening. This effort is the very foundation of the Christian life. But listen. We cannot live in the foundation of a house; we have to build on that foundation. Keep growing, keep moving upward…” (p. 130)
One way to begin is to read (and occasionally re-read) this book.
About the book: Help! I’m Bored in Church by Fr. David Smith can be found here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/help-im-bored-in-church/.
About the author: Fr. David Smith is the priest at St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church in Syracuse, NY. He is married to Presbytera Donna, and they have four children. He has also written “Mary, Worthy of all Praise” (Conciliar Press; 2003), and “Christianity and Pleasure” (Regina Orthodox Press; 2008). For additional spiritual challenge and input, you can listen to Fr. David Smith’s sermons online at http://stsophias.org/sermons.html, or watch/listen to others on his YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCS-09S_AEqBHebx1vDXM8RA.
One of his YouTube videos is about this book! See it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJWHH0QzmbA.
A related note: Although this is geared to teens/young adults and is not by Fr. David, family members of all ages can benefit from watching this Be the Bee vlog about church being “boring.” (Perhaps it can be a discussion starter to share what you’re learning with your kids as you read this book?) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TL0BYNUM9pw#t=237
Here are additional quotes from the book:
“This is how I want you to think about your relationship to God—like a marriage. A perfect marriage—except that you commit adultery nearly every day. But here’s the good news: God will always welcome you back. He will always run out to the car to hug you and walk with you back into your home. But you have to go home… Picture [the front door of your church] in your mind. I never want you to walk through that door again without saying something to God about how you have cheated on Him since last time you were there. The door of your church, from now on, is the gateway of repentance for you. Only in this way will you understand why you’re there in that building.” (pp. 24-25)
“When your time in church is spent in repentance and communion with God, your heart will be overflowing with joy when you walk out.” (p. 47)
“Here’s why you should go to church: because you get way more than you bargained for. The Church is the point in the universe where God is most present, and let me give you this advice: I think you’d be the most happy you’ll ever be when you’re consistently in that place. What you see is not what you get—you get way more than you can see. Look around at the icons, and embrace that hope that tells you those saints are with you right at that moment, and praying for you.” (p. 51)
“Look around you while you’re in church, not to judge those who are also there, but to help your mind understand that the church is a holy pace. Your mind might occasionally whine like an annoying child that it wants to go to a different party. Tell it to be quiet. Look around you. You are exactly where you are supposed to be.” (p. 53)
“The most spectacular miracle in human history takes place every Sunday in your church—the miracle of the bread becoming the Body and the wine becoming the Blood of God. Every word of the Divine Liturgy prepares for that miracle, celebrates it, points to it, makes it possible, and describes it. It’s a beautiful and awesome thing. If you don’t know what’s going on, you’re missing something you definitely shouldn’t be missing.
“Find a liturgy book and follow along. Get to know the parts of the Divine Liturgy, what each means and how each part contributes to the whole…” (p. 70)
“The fact is that distracting yourself so you don’t get bored will never provide a long-term substitute for the genuine, heartfelt, all-consuming worship of God. To achieve this, you need to bring your mind under control. Or, at least, more under control. Think of it as a continuum: on one end you have twenty thoughts galloping around your head like a herd of puppies, and on the other end you have a mind as focused and attentive as an experienced seeing-eye dog. Try to move yourself a little more toward having some control over your thoughts. Perhaps you’re not going to achieve guide-dog concentration at first, but you might be able to teach a puppy or two to stop pooping in the house.” (pp. 95-96)
“When someone says, ‘Church is boring,’ he’s really saying, ‘When I come to church, I drag my problems along with me, like a dog trying to drag a dead deer around the yard.’ Why do that? Why not drop the problems off at the door and spend a few minutes each week living free of their weight?
“Of course, most of us keep (mentally) going back outside during the Divine Liturgy to rearrange, or reconsider, or just stare at our problems. But remember St. Seraphim’s advice: When your mind wanders, you should humble yourself and call out to God, ‘I have sinned, O Lord, in word, deed, thought and with all my senses.’ Repent that you allowed your mind to wander, and bring it back into the church.” (pp. 110-111)
(When praying the Anaphora Prayers:) “But listen. Does God need to be reminded that He is inexpressible? Or eternally the same? Obviously not. God does not need to be reminded of anything—we do! While you are praying any of the words of the Liturgy—and always remember, the words of the Liturgy are indeed prayers— allow them to teach you about the faith. Allow them to fill you with the One we pray to and teach you why we pray. Allow them to teach you what we believe.” (p. 116)