Mystic: Howard Thurman

July 22nd, 2019 by Dave Leave a reply »

The Meaning of Life
Sunday, July 21, 2019

In spite of all seeming evidence to the contrary, mystics know that God is love, and this love is both our source and our goal. I’d like you to recognize that it’s not just me saying these things. There are a great many theologians, saints, and laypeople who have conveyed this reality much better than I. I’ve previously written about some of the Christian mystics who have had a profound impact on me, such as Francis and Clare of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Ávila. [1] This week I’d like to reflect on a more contemporary mystic, Reverend Howard Thurman (1900–1981).  

Here’s an insightful description of how Thurman’s significant influence was built upon his commitment to contemplation and action: 

The Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman contributed much to the incorporation of the contemplative in social/racial justice efforts. An African American theologian and mystic, Thurman was reared in an African American Baptist Church, . . . [and] served as spiritual advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and thus played a critical role as a “behind the scenes” leader in the development of an alternative to violence in the dismantling of racial injustice in America.

Thurman chose to engage in work that would serve all people and to use the contemplative experience as a path to peace, joy, and power. . . . [He] had the prophetic ability to make a connection between the silence and scrutiny of one’s inner life and the work for social justice. [2]

This week I’ll share Thurman’s own writings with very little introduction or explanation. His words speak for themselves. Read with your heart wide open:

The goal of life is God! The source of life is God! That out of which life comes is that into which life goes. . . . God is the guarantor of all [our] values, the ultimate meaning—the timeless frame of reference. That which sustains the flower of the field, the circling series of stars in the heavens, the structure of dependability in the world of nature everywhere, the stirring of the will of man to action, the dream of humanity, developed and free, for which myriad men, sometimes in solitariness in lonely places or in great throngs milling in crowded squares—all this and infinitely more in richness and variety and value is God. Men may be thrown from their courses—they may wander for a million years in desert and waste land, through sin and degradation, war and pestilence, hate and love—at last they must find their rest in Him. . . .

The source of life is God. The mystic applies this to human life when he says that there is in man an uncreated element; or in the Book of Job where it is written that his mark is in their foreheads. . . . To deal with men on any other basis, to treat them as if there were not vibrant and vital in each one the very life of the very God, is the great blasphemy; it is the judgment that is leveled with such relentless severity on modern man. “Thou hast made us for thyself and our souls are restless till they find their rest in thee,” says Augustine. Life is like a river.

Deep River, my home is over Jordan—
Deep River, I want to cross over into camp ground. [3]

Opening the Doors of My Being
Monday, July 22, 2019

This week we’re reflecting on the writings of Howard Thurman. (See Sunday’s meditation for my introduction.) Today Thurman explores how prayer is not a transaction, nor is it about changing God. It’s about opening our hearts, minds, and bodies to be receptive to God’s already and always presence:

The place and significance of spiritual disciplines and exercises cannot be overemphasized. It is important, however, to understand what that significance is. There is no necessitous relationship between the disciplines and the awareness of God’s presence. All disciplines of this character are meant to “ready” the mind, the emotions, the spirit. They are no guarantor of Presence.

This is the miracle, the heights and depths of wonder and awe. God reveals His Presence out of the mystery of Being. With all of my passionate endeavor, I cannot command that He obey. All of my prayers, my meditation, my vast and compelling urgency or need cannot order, woo or beg God into the revealing of His Presence. Even my need and my desperation cannot command Him. There is an overwhelming autonomy here;  God does move in a mysterious way His wonders to perform. But He is so full of such wonderful and heartening surprises.

In the total religious experience we learn how to wait; we learn how to ready the mind and the spirit. It is in the waiting, brooding, lingering, tarrying timeless moments that the essence of the religious experience becomes most fruitful. It is here that I learn to listen, to swing wide the very doors of my being, to clean out the corners and the crevices of my life—so that when His Presence invades, I am free to enjoy His coming to Himself in me. . . .

I work at preparing my mind, my spirit for the moment when God comes to Himself in me. When it happens, I experience His Presence. When this experience becomes an object of thought and reflection, it is then that my mind creates dogmas, creeds and doctrines. These are the creations of the mind and are therefore always after the fact of the religious experience. But they are always out of date. The religious experience is always current, always fresh.[Emphasis mine—RR.] In it I hear His Voice in my own tongue and in accordance with the grain in my own wood. In that glorious and transcendent moment, it may easily seem to me that all there is, is God.

Summary: Week Twenty-nine

Introduction to Christian Mysticism

July 14 – July 19, 2019

A mystic is simply one who has moved from mere belief or belonging systems to actual inner experience of God. (Sunday)

A mystic sees things in their wholeness, connection, and union, not only their particularity. Mystics get the whole gestalt in one picture, beyond the sequential and separated way of seeing. (Monday)

A Christian is one who can see Christ everywhere else and even in oneself. (Tuesday)

If you want to find God, then honor God within you, and you will always see God beyond you. For it is only God in you who knows where and how to look for God. (Wednesday)

Saints embody goodness while mystics embody love—Carl McColman(Thursday)

The mystic is not a special kind of person; each person is a special kind of mystic. —William McNamara (Friday)

Practice: A Prayer of Gratitude

Prayer is sitting in the silence until it silences us, choosing gratitude until we are grateful, and praising God until we ourselves are an act of praise. Mature prayer always breaks into gratitude. This week’s practice is a body prayer from Beverly Lanzetta. Adapt the movements to your body’s needs so that you’re comfortable. Focus simply on the feeling of gratitude and, as you are able, do the following as you read through the stanzas: bow, kneel, lie down, rise, put your hands over your heart, place your hands together, bow your head, and open your arms wide.

Holy Earth, Holy Cosmos,
I bow before you
With my whole being.

Holy Creatures, Holy Nature,
I kneel upon the earth
In honor and thanksgiving
Of your blessed bounty.

Holy Waters, Holy Mountains,
I lay my body on your temple
In gratefulness for nurturing
My tender soul.

Holy Passion, Holy Longing,
I rise up before you
A devotee of truth,
Following wherever you lead me.

Holy Silence, Holy Solitude,
I place my hands over my heart
Breathing in serenity,
Breathing out your peace.

Holy Sorrow, Holy Suffering,
I close my hands in prayer
May I bear every wound
With compassion and nonharm.

Holy Humility, Holy Emptiness,
I bow my head before you
I have become open,
For your All to shine in my soul.

Holy Freedom, Holy Rejoicing,
I open my heart to the world
Offering myself to this day,
In joyfulness and gratitude.

Amen. [1]


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