Thurman on Racism vs. Community, Racism vs. Cosmology

Continuing his meditation on cosmology and community, Howard Thurman insists that consciousness and awareness “cannot be separated from the functioning of life” itself. 

“Diamond Nights” by San Francisco-based photographer Beth Moon,  inspired by two studies connecting tree growth with celestial movement and astral cycles. The first study concluded that cosmic radiation impacts tree growth even more than annual temperature or rainfall; the second found that tree buds change size and shape directly correlating to the moon and planets. Uploaded to YouTube by Ahmed Fares

The activity of stars, of which our sun is a minor one, involves the condensation of primordial matter into the configurations of atoms, which configurations are indissolubly involved in the substances of all living organisms. And stellar activity provides the planetary platform for the development of organisms.

Thurman’s deep sense of cosmology awakened wonder at our universe with its myriad expressions of interdependence or community.   “The universe is not only vast and overwhelming in its immensity, it is also minutely structured and coordinated.”  He speaks of “systems within systems within systems” that are all held together and contained by a “boundless” boundlessness.

A micro-ecosystem at the base of a giant sequoia, Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Redwoods National Park, California, 2006. Photo by Ken Lund on Flickr.

His creative effort to name interconnectivity not only echoes current scientific ecological findings, it also resonates with the teachings of mystics like Hildegard of Bingen and Meister Eckhart who, as we have seen, celebrate interconnectivity.  Thurman sees in the new cosmology an expression of how “mutual interdependence is characteristic of all of life.

Thurman felt that if humanity would base itself in a common cosmology, it would come to see that, “man is in a very real sense one of the products of the time-bound evolutionary processes” and that “the concept of the fundamental unity of life, seems to be the logic of all that investigation, exploration, and imagination reveal about beginnings.”

“Peace.” Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Ecology and community go together for Thurman, for “man is a child of nature; he is rooted and grounded in the earth.”  He criticizes dualism that has so characterized modern consciousness and laments the religious and cultural worldview it has spawned: 

The sense of separateness from the rest of nature is so marked that man tends to see himself as being over against nature. In defense of this conceit, various dogmas and even theologies have been developed.

Thurman did not dwell excessively on his mystical experiences—instead he used them as a springboard to raise the prophetic questions of his time and his people—especially the questions around racism. 

If Life is about unity and interdependence is a rule of life and a rule of the universe, is racism not an affront to that unity, to that community?  How can the universe tolerate racism then?  As Thurman scholar Luther Smith puts it in his fine book Howard Thurman: The Mystic as Prophet:

Teaching community, diversity and inclusion: “NBC’s Kristen Dahlgren looks at the impact “Sesame Street” has had on the world as the iconic children’s show turns 50.” Uploaded to YouTube by TODAY.

Thurman understood racism to be a ‘contradiction of life.’  Racism is inimical to the formation of identity…racism is inimical to the formation of community.  Systematic discrimination sabotages the function of community as a place of nurture and growth through cooperation.  Destructive forces are released that rupture life’s inherent inter-relatedness.

One price we pay for racism, therefore, is a rupture with the forces of interconnectivity that bind together life and cosmos.  Community is sundered. 

Thurman felt victimized by racism [which] attacked the well being of community….It put the welfare of the community in crisis.

See Howard Thurman, Search for Common Ground, pp. 32f., 41, 67, 83, 63.  Thanks to Drew Dellinger for our discussions on these matters and his writings on the same.

See also Luther E. Smith, Jr., Howard Thurman: The Mystic as Prophet, p. 107.

See also Matthew Fox, “Howard Thurman: A Creation-Centered Mystic from the African American Tradition,” in Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets, pp. 145-153.

Banner Image: Hand to hand. Photo by Matheus Viana on Pexels.

Have you considered the relationship of racism and cosmology, racism and the loss of community?  Luther Smith says that Thurman “was acutely aware that racism attacked his self worth and freedom.”  Racism contradicts the universe community as well as human communities while attacking self worth and freedom.  Can a moment of Black Lives Matter advance community and the self worth and freedom of all its members?

Wrestling with the Prophets: Essays on Creation Spirituality and Everyday Life

In one of his foundational works, Fox engages with some of history’s greatest mystics, philosophers, and prophets in profound and hard-hitting essays on such varied topics as Eco-Spirituality, AIDS, homosexuality, spiritual feminism, environmental revolution, Native American spirituality, Christian mysticism, Art and Spirituality, Art as Meditation, Interfaith or Deep Ecumenism and more.

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