If Augustine Was a Teenager

St. AugustineI opened my mail today to find a copy of Call on Me: A Prayer Book for Young People, a great little volume by Jennifer Gamber and Sharon Ely Pearson, published by Morehouse. It was sent to me by Sharon, who happens to be the Christian Formation Specialist at Church Publishing (and who, by the way, curates a great website called Building Faith and a blog called Rows of Sharon).

Anyway, I just happened to open to prayer number 51, “Boredom.” Like all prayers in this volume, the language is relaxed and straightforward. It begins:

My heart is restless. I have nothing to do.
I’m bored.

What a great prayer, I thought—so timely for our students and schools. As teachers and parents we worry that children are too easily bored. Or do not know how to be bored. Or do not know how to cope with being bored.

Then I noticed the footnote, which read:

Based on the words of St. Augustine of Hippo (CE 354-430).

You mean the ancients were bored? Even Augustine? 

There is a contemporary tendency to worry about our children and students in new ways and for new reasons: their boredom (or lack thereof), their distraction, the mind-eroding effects of multitasking.

Duke professor Cathy Davidson writes a lot about this in her book Now You See It wherein she writes about the brain science of attention and then challenges the purportedly deleterious effects of social networking and a life online.

Davidson would say (and this contemporary re-wording of St. Augustine would seem to affirm) that distraction, multi-tasking, boredom and any number of “conditions” we tag as “new” have always been with us. We encounter them in new ways—Facebook, Twitter, email, Netflix. But our greatest challenges lay not outside us, in the “thing” itself—whatever the 21st century throws at us and whatever the 4th century threw at Augustine—but inside us, in ourselves. Technology is simply a new medium through which we grapple with the timeless: purpose, creativity, efficacy, learning, meaning, and relationships.

I love the fact that Augustine and I still have something in common, even after 1,700 years. Our students are on the same human journey towards purpose and meaning. We can wring our hands and bemoan their “new” world, or walk beside them. They can show us some new things along the way, and we can bring Augustine along for the ride.