Creative monotony helps one find God

Saturday, September 3, 2005

Have you ever felt you must always try something new when things became boring?

Or believed if one was where God intended, life would be constantly interesting and exciting?

I never enjoyed repetitious, dull chores because I felt my time was being wasted. Consequently, I hastened to think of other things to do. However, my perspective changed after I discovered that monotony and repetition have a beauty and purpose all their own.

"Monotony can be creative," says Cistercian monk Mike Casey.

Monotony makes us deal with the things that distraction seeks to avoid. That statement struck a nerve within me as I remembered a hospital stay I had been forced to endure a few years ago.

Although I was only hospitalized for tests, I was confined to the infirmary for three weeks. For me, that was a real dilemma because I was unable to experience anything new or interesting. I had to think of ways to fill my mind and time without the aid of outside influences.

Since the time of childhood I was taught if things bothered me, I must throw my shoulders back, smile and press on. I learned to shrug worries off, pretending they didn't exist, and place my mind on other matters.

During my hospital stay, I had no choice except to face myself. I was unable to run away because there was nowhere to go. At first I became extremely nervous -- unable to tolerate the quiet and stillness of silence -- forced to be alone with myself without the assistance of distractions.

Since I could find no other way out of my quandary, I finally relaxed and found I could actually survive without constant diversity. In fact, I derived a peaceful pleasure in "being able" to deal with the dull days.

I drew strength from the fact I could live and be happy just by contemplating, writing letters, sleeping and praying -- making friends with my surroundings. Although the days were long, I learned I could withstand the nothingness I had first experienced.

While searching within, I discovered a stronger me. I grew to enjoy the silence and monotony I endured -- felt and heard echoing around me because the days were filled with sameness.

I have since become an advocate of contemplative prayer. What better setting is there in which to think about God and scripture than in an atmosphere of silence and sameness? There is indeed something sacred about monotony.

It makes us deal with the things that distractions enable us to avoid. Because when the distractions are gone what we've tried so hard to avoid returns, and we're forced to face what it is we've tried so heard to escape.

Anything worth having requires a certain amount of monotony to attain. That's what commitment is all about. Marriage encounters monotony, as do school, work and the ministry. Yet without the commitment to continue a relationship, complete the task or finish the journey, nothing valuable is ever gained.

There's a certain amount of freedom involved in commitment and monotony. Although one may look at the same face morning after morning in a marriage, interact with the same people day after day at work or continue plugging away at a project, one learns that through doing so trust and love build.

There's a sense of well-being that springs from commitment built on monotony, repetition and boredom. It's the constant hammering away that finishes projects and builds lives -- the monotony found in daily life that enables us to stop running away and find God in the here and now.

Ellen Shuck is director of religious education at St. Mary's Cathedral Parish.

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