In a previous DM we heard Thurman’s powerful words about his return to Source and Creation such as these: “This was a part of my cosmic religious experience as I grew up.” (See Thurman on the Via Positiva) Like Dona Richards and like his African ancestors, he has a profound teaching on our relationship to nature.
He testifies to how basic our yearning for news about our origins and therefore cosmology is when he writes: It is natural that man should concern himself with beginnings. This is a part of the curiosity of the mind. Without it there would be no exploration of the world and there would be no growth. This is an inherent characteristic of mind; it is not unique to any particular age of man, culture, or society. Contemplation concerning origins is a part of the curiosity of the race.
Thurman underscores our inherent need for cosmology — the “curiosity of our race” includes curiosity about our origins, our beginnings, where we come from and where we find ourselves in the universe. All this is cosmology.
Thurman is clearly an ecological and cosmological citizen who sees the universe, earth, life, and the human as a seamless unity. “Since we are not only living in the universe but the universe is living in us, it follows, then, that man is an organic part of the universe.” Our consciousness and awareness “cannot be separated from the functioning of life” for life binds us together and is an accomplishment of a vast and ancient and still creative universe.
Thurman poses the ultimate question: “Precisely what does it mean to experience oneself as a human being?” And then he answers it this way. “In the first place, it means that the individual must have a sense of kinship to life that transcends and goes beyond the immediate kinship of family or the organic kinship that binds him ethnically or “racially” or nationally. He has to feel that he belongs to his total environment…. In other words, he sees himself as a part of a continuing, breathing, living existence. To be a human being, then, is to be essentially alive in a living world.
We ought to be concerned “with beginnings” for these questions fuel our growth. Today science is gifting us with a new story of the universe, one that is being understood around the world. We are also learning how our ancestors all came from Africa. A rebirth of wonder follows those who keep their curiosity about origins alive.
Thurman recognizes that life itself has a tendency toward unity at all levels. And in this “whole-making” process, humans and the rest of nature strive for harmony and community. “There is a spirit abroad in life,” he stated in The Luminous Darkness “that makes for wholeness and for community.”
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics, pp. 203, 210.
Banner Image: Scanned: November 17, 2005 Howard Thurman Dean Thurman @ Marsh Chapel March 6, 1959
Queries for Contemplation
How often do you wonder about these questions about our origins? Is it something you gave up at the end of your childhood?
Do you sense a drive for harmony and community, a “whole-making” process, embedded within yourself and other dimensions of the natural world? How important is that? How do we fan the flames of that?