Howard Thurman, the spiritual elder and genius behind the civil rights movement, was a profound mystic as well as a prophet. From his childhood days, growing up on the land and near the sea in Florida, he found God in creation. Consider this testimony from his autobiography:
“As a child, the boundaries of my life
spilled over into the mystery of the ocean
and wonder of the dark nights
and the wooing of the wind
until the breath of Nature
and my own breath seemed to be one—
it was resonant to the tonality of God.
This was a part of my cosmic religious experience as I grew up.”
Thurman’s own experience as a wonder-filled child, as well as his people’s experience from an African earth-based reverence for the cosmos, permeates this self-disclosure.
“There is magic all around us—
in the rocks, the trees, and the minds of men…
and he who strikes the rock aright
may find them where he will….
There can be no thing that does not have within it
the signature of God,
the Creator of life,
the living substance out of which
all particular manifestations arise.”
Thurman sees the Divine in all of nature. And goes still deeper:
“God is not merely the Creator of creatures, of all objects animate and inanimate; but also and more importantly, …God is the creator of life itself. Existence is the creation of God; life is the creation of God.”
I hear echoes here of Meister Eckhart’s teaching that “isness is God.” (Thurman studied Eckhart with the Quaker philosopher Rufus Jones when he was a young man and invokes him often.) “Our encounter with God…must be with One who is seen as holding within his context all that there is, including existence itself.” This “holding within his context all that there is” is panentheism.
For Thurman, we can experience breakthrough and God at any time.
“The incidents of a man’s life may, within a moment’s notice, catapult him into the midst of the experience which is completely irradiated with the presence of God. In any wilderness the unsuspecting traveler may come upon the burning bush, and discover that the ground upon which he stand is holy ground. Wherever such occurs, we may be sure that even though the context itself may be casual or even random, the experience itself is not.”
For Thurman this experience of being “irradiated with the presence of God,” lies at the center of one’s religious consciousness and work in the world.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets, pp. 146-148. The rendering of Thurman’s words into poetic line spacing is my own doing.
Banner image; “Full Moo Behind Clouds, Cannon Beach, U.S.” Photo by Kyle Johnson on Unsplash
For Deeper Contemplation
Are you struck with the poetic imagination and creative wording of Thurman as he names his spiritual experiences in nature? Such phrases as “the wooing of the night” and the oneing of the “breath of Nature and my own breath” being “resonant to the tonality of God.” Does he lend language to your own experiences of God in nature?
Do you experience the “magic all around us in the rocks, the trees and the minds of people?” What does it mean that he names such mystical experiences so touchingly? Does it bring your experiences more alive, more present?
Be with a phrase from Thurman above. Let it wash over and through you.
In one of his foundational works, Fox engages in substantive discussions with some of history’s greatest mystics, philosophers, and prophets on today’s social and spiritual issues on such challenging topics as Eco-Spirituality, AIDS, homosexuality, spiritual feminism, environmental revolution, Native American spirituality, Christian mysticism, Art and Spirituality, Art as Meditation, Interspirituality, and more.