Friday, March 5, 2010

Authenticity, Johnny Cash Style!

I've been catching up on NPR programs by listening online--I love streaming audio! A week ago, I missed a great Fresh Air show about Johnny Cash. I particularly enjoyed the interview with producer Rick Rubin, who worked closely with Cash at the end of his life.

He talked about Johnny Cash as a spiritual person: "He's probably the most committed spiritual person I've ever met. He really lived his life according to his connection with God, really. And he had such an honest and pure way about it that - I remember we had a dinner party at my house one night with Johnny and June and some musicians and some film directors, and before dinner, Johnny had everyone hold hands and he said a prayer and he read from a Bible. And I know some of the people at the table had never experienced that before and some of the people at the table were even atheists. But his belief in what he believed was so strong that what you believed didn't matter so much because you were in the presence of someone who really believed and that felt good and that made you believe really in him more than anything else. It was really beautiful."

I've thought about that quote all week. I want to be that kind of spiritually authentic person, so that even atheists will not object to saying a prayer with me, because my life has been such a witness.

I've known other Christians who wanted to be a witness, but just turned people off. Somehow they seemed insincere, either because their behavior didn't match their words, or because they were too militant, or because nonbelievers felt harassed. How do we achieve that Johnny Cash authenticity without veering into that dangerous side territory of hypocrisy? Do we have to have those years of struggle and desperate living to achieve that kind of authenticity?

Perhaps one achieves that authenticity by being quiet for a good long time. In Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft, Bill Moyers interviews a wide variety of poets. The Buddhist poet, Jane Hirshfield talks about Teahouse practice: "Teahouse practice means that you don't explicitly talk about Zen. It refers to living your life as if you were an old woman who has a teahouse by the side of the road. Nobody knows why they like to go there, they just feel good drinking her tea. She's not known as a Buddhist teacher, she doesn't say 'This is the Zen teahouse.' All she does is simply serve tea--but still, her decades of attentiveness are part of the way she does it. No one knows about her faithful attention to the practice, it's just there, in the serving of the tea and the way she cleans the counters and washes the cups" (page 112).

The one thing I've noticed is that authentic people get a lot of practice. They don't just come to an authentic life fully formed. It is through the daily practice and daily work and the work of being self-aware and vigilant that we come to authenticity.

1 comment:

Mrs. M said...

I really like this a lot. I've worried about being one of those militant Christians to people, so much that I think I've swung to the other side of the pendulum. It's helpful to think about authenticity making the difference.