Howard Thurman on a Return to the Sacred Cosmos, Part II

We have been considering the return to the sacred and creation among many traditions of the world.  Currently we are calling on the African tradition as found in Dona Richards and Howard Thurman.  In his autobiography Thurman  celebrates our oneness with nature this way:

Since 2016, Kenyan farmer Patrick Kilonzo Mwalua has been trucking water over long distances to Tsavo West National Park, saving the lives of elephants, zebras, buffaloes and more. Video by Njoki Coleman as part of the Dodo Heroes series; learn more and support Mwalua’s work HERE.

My testimony is that life is against all dualism. Life is One. Therefore, a way of life that is worth living must be a way worthy of life itself. Nothing less than that can abide. Always, against all that fragments and shatters and against all things that separate and divide within and without, life labors to meld together into a single harmony.

Not unlike Hildegard of Bingen, Thurman warns us what happens when our natural striving for harmony and community is broken.  Humans pay an immense price spiritually and emotionally, he warns us in his book Search for Common Ground.

The latest tool we are capable of misusing to distance ourselves from nature: the ability to connect to our technology anywhere. Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Man cannot long separate himself from nature without withering as a cut rose in a vase. One of the deceptive aspects of mind in man is to give him the illusion of being distinct from and over against but not a part of nature. It is but a single leap thus to regard nature as being so completely other than himself that he may exploit it, plunder it, and rape it with impunity.  

Thurman gets behind the spiritual malaise that has brought about the great devastation of the planet through ecological neglect. We have been living an “illusion” that we are not ourselves of nature but “distinct from and over against” nature — that we are here to “master” nature, as Francis Bacon and Descartes bragged about early in the modern age. The exploitation, plundering, and raping of nature has been the clear result.

He warns what happens when humans rupture the sacred relationship with Creation:

Pristine in the 1940s, Maracaibo Lake in Venezuela, the biggest lake of South America, is now fouled with oil spill, human waste, trash and industrial effluent. Photo by Wilfredor on Wikimedia Commons.

This we see all around us in the modern world. Our atmosphere is polluted, our streams are poisoned, our hills are denuded, wild life is increasingly exterminated, while more and more man becomes as alien on the earth and a fouler of his own nest. The price that is being exacted for this is a deep sense of isolation, of being rootless and a vagabond.

Often I have surmised that this condition is more responsible for what seems to be the phenomenal increase in mental and emotional disturbances in modern life than the pressures—economic, social, and political—that abound on every hand. The collective psyche shrieks with the agony that it feels as part of the death cry of a pillaged nature.

We are paying a tremendous price for the rupture between ourselves and the rest of nature.  We can and must do better.  We are talking about a spiritual problem as well as a political and economic one.  We are talking about the loss of the sacred at human hands.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics, pp. 216f.

Banner Image: Kenyan women of the Green Belt Movement, founded by Wangari Maathai, plant a tree. Photo courtesy of the Green Belt Movement; see the movement’s current impact here.

Queries for Contemplation

Are you at home with your utter naturalness? Do you feel yourself to be fully a part of nature? How do you live this at work, with family, in your citizenship, and in prayer?

Do you hear the “shrieks with agony as part of the death cry of a pillage nature”?  How does that inform your politics and challenge your spirituality and action?

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