On August 28, 2013, our nation commemorates to the day the 50th Anniversary of The March on Washington. As a six year old, I watched the march on our black and white, six-station Philco television with rabbit ears to boot. Of course, I had no idea what I was watching, but the singing grabbed my attention. I heard songs that I had heard in church. Indeed the music and lyrics of We Shall Overcome, the emblematic song of the Civil Rights Movement, were so indelibly imprinted on my psyche that when I learned to play the clarinet some years later, We Shall Overcome was the first song that I learned to play by heart, actually teaching myself based on the tune that I had carried in my heart throughout the 60’s.
We shall overcome; we shall overcome
We shall overcome someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We shall overcome someday.
We shall live in peace; we shall live in peace
We shall live in peace someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We shall live in peace someday.
How we yearned to live in peace in those turbulent times when things seemed to be unraveling before our eyes! Three months after The March on Washington, President John F. Kennedy would be gunned down in Texas. Commenting on Kennedy’s assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King noted that America was sick. The real question to entertain, according to Dr. King, was not who killed John F. Kennedy, but what killed him. King had a premonition that he, too, would undergo the same fate as the 35th president.
What killed Kennedy is still a relevant question to ask. The question of what killed Kennedy gets at the systemic reality whose tentacles have reached into every aspect of our lives. That systemic reality is the trauma of sin, which undergirds various forms of psychic trauma. We all share in it in one way or another and it keeps us in a state of unrest until we come to terms with it and garner a semblance of peace. Though we are keenly aware of the ways that we are damaged and traumatized, yet we yearn to live in peace. Peace is a possibility for us because in connection with Christ we have overcome. Christ is our peace. He is our peace with God. His cross is the sign that the condemnation of the law has been broken inasmuch as he took upon himself the law’s condemnation. The law’s condemnation was our yoke to bear. Yet, motivated by love, and desiring to reconcile us to the Father, Jesus took the yoke of the law from us. There is peace with God in Christ Jesus. This tangible peace in Christ Jesus is personally offered to us in the sacramental life of the church. What Christ accomplished many years ago is given to us individually in the waters of Baptism, the bread and wine of the Eucharist and in the evangelical words of Confession.
There is peace with God. How do we rest in that peace deep in our hearts? The practice of contemplation can assist us here. Contemplation is a many-splendid thing: it means many things to many people like most things in life. Also known as centering prayer and mindfulness, contemplation is not the sole possession of any one tradition. There are many ways to do contemplation and each practitioner molds it based on their worldview and what they deem valuable and what they hope to gain out of the practice. There is, however, one fruit of any serious and disciplined practice of contemplation. That fruit is silence. The noise of the soul gets shut off or, at least, becomes manageable. It is out of that silence that we act in disciplined ways because the disparate parts of the soul are integrated by the love of God that is experienced in the silence. Once we are readied by the love of God in silence, we are ready to hear from God in order to act in the world in a way that is informed by discernment. Howard Thurman, noted mystical theologian, said, “Prayer is getting ready to pray.” The same could be said of contemplation. Contemplation is getting ready to pray, getting ready to worship, getting ready to work, getting ready to study, getting ready to play, getting ready to hope and to dream, for silence makes us available and present to those experiences.
There are two dominant voices that need to be shut down, namely guilt and anxiety, for these take us out of the present. Guilt has to do with the past; anxiety has to do with the future. We are to live in neither. Silence emerges out of resting in the accomplished work of Christ, which imbues us with love, which empowers us to live now in the present. Love gives us the courage to face our own pain and society’s pain. There is no getting around pain; you cannot avoid it, though we try through various distractions. But, the distracted soul is most noisy. To rest in the accomplished work of Christ is to rest in God’s love, for God is demonstrably love in Christ Jesus. Think of a session of contemplation as basking in love that gets you ready to live in the present with all its noisy pain and trauma. Love unfolds in peace, the peace that passes all understanding. The disparate parts of our traumatized souls cannot give us this peace; they are frozen in their trauma and speak out of that perspective and make our hearts noisy. Deep in our hearts, we do believe; we shall live in peace, especially in our noisy souls. That is a possibility for us in the love of God that we experience in contemplation. The experience of the love of God in contemplation is the pure experience that we seek.