Ash Wednesday: The Sound of the Genuine
"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
February 17, 2021, Words By: Kris Rocke, Image By: Unknown
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Christians worldwide will enter into a heightened time (40 days) of prayer, reflection, and spiritual companionship with Jesus to the Resurrection by way of the cross. Here at Street Psalms, we are grateful for this annual pilgrimage that awakens our heart to its deepest desire.
Given the events of the past year, perhaps the thought of entering any kind of spiritual pilgrimage that includes a fast strikes you as absurd. Perhaps you have reached your limit. If so, you are not alone. And yet, it seems equally absurd to deny the moment we are in and try to manufacture an extended Mardi Gras to numb the pain.
Something about this moment reminds me of the invitation of Howard Thurman, who was the unofficial pastor to the Civil Rights Movement. Given the high stakes of the movement, he would insist that the leaders of the movement travel the inward journey, knowing full well its dangers and lifegiving potential.
Thurman was a contemplative activist through and through. He recognized that direct encounter with God and direct action with humanity is where the Gospel comes alive. Encounter and action is the way of Jesus.
Thurman was adamant that in order to act justly in an unjust world, without reacting, each of us must find “the sound of the genuine” inside ourselves. And then pair that with the sound of the genuine in others, especially those whose “backs are against the wall.” That’s how we make great music. Here is how Thurman describes it.
Now if I hear the sound of the genuine in me, and if you hear the sound of the genuine in you, it is possible for me to go down in me and come up in you. So that when I look at myself through your eyes having made that pilgrimage, I see in me what you see in me and the wall that separates and divides will disappear, and we will become one because the sound of the genuine makes the same music.
To find that sound, Thurman spoke of traveling the vast “sea within.” In that sea is an island and on that island is an altar protected by an angel with a flaming sword. On that altar is where we discover our “crucial link with the Eternal,” our deepest desire, the sound of the genuine.
In my experience, traveling the inward sea of chaos to the altar of the authentic is not for the faint of heart. This is especially true given that the sound of the genuine is protected by the flaming swords. It’s not clear exactly what Thurman had in mind here, but these swords seem a lot like the work of a frightened ego that will go to any length to protect its precious “treasure.”
This all sounds a lot like the Lenten journey to me. It is the journey of every person who wants to become fully human and it’s not without a price. Jesus says it unsparingly, “those who lose their life (psychen) will find it” (Matt. 10:39). He is not referring here to the physical loss of life or martyrdom. He is referring to the loss of our “psyche,” what Freud would call the ego, or Jung would call it the “shadow” or Merton would call the “false self”. It’s the fake self that we agree to play in exchange for some kind of fake acceptance from those who are incapable of giving it. Regardless of what we call it, it’s killing us, and it’s that to which we must die if we want to truly live.
Perhaps you are wondering if the sound of the genuine is really worth all this, especially after all that we’ve gone through this past year. It’s a fair question and I don’t blame you if you choose to sit this one out. All I can say is, when we refuse this journey we set up the conditions for…well…our current situation, where we hear just about everything except the sound of the genuine.
If Jesus could say to his disciples, “follow me,” and Thurman could insist that Martin Luther King Jr. make the journey, then perhaps we too will be well served by joining in. Besides, the world could really use some great music about now.