From Meditations on Evil to Meditations with Howard Thurman

This past week, while meditating about the epiphany of evil that revealed itself on January 6, I experienced a welcome counterpoint in the fine PBS documentary on Black Music and the Black Church.  I was especially pleased to see recognized the great mystic and prophet Howard Thurman—whose spiritual genius has been too little held up and honored either in the black community or the larger community. 

Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story explores the extraordinary life of a man who, in his heart, was a poet and “mystic.” Yet through his religious expression, Thurman helped ignite sweeping social change. Trailer uploaded to YouTube by MPT National – Maryland Public Television

Let us consider some of Thurman’s amazing contributions to a mature creation spirituality in this and subsequent DMs.  His is a spirituality grounded in mysticism that comes alive in questing for social and ecological justice.  Thurman was very aware of the work of Meister Eckhart, having been introduced to him as a young man by the Quaker theologian, Rufus Jones.  He frequently invokes Eckhart both explicitly and implicitly.

Thurman speaks to the reality of hate that he, growing up in a segregated town in Florida, was intimate with. 

What, then, is the word of the religion of Jesus to those who stand with their backs against the wall? There must be the clearest possible understanding of the anatomy of the issues facing them. They must recognize fear, deception, hatred, each for what it is. Once having done this, they must learn how to destroy these or to render themselves immune to their domination. In so great an undertaking it will become increasingly clear that the contradictions of life are not ultimate.

“Back against the wall.” A protestor at a Black Lives Matter march. Photo by Tito Texidor III on Unsplash

In this passage from his influential book Jesus and the Disinherited—Martin Luther King Jr. took it with him wherever he went—Thurman sees Jesus as supportive of those who are oppressed and with “their backs against the wall.”  Such people have to look squarely in the eye of fear and deception and hatred and become “immune” to them. No denial!  And no spiritual bypassing! 

Talking about evil as we have the last week in the DM has been uncomfortable for some.  It should be.  Truth and unmasking hatred in our midst ought to be discomforting.  One positive role that evil plays is to awaken us from our sleep and get us acting in the face of lies. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. in Birmingham Jail. Photographer unknown.

It makes me sad that some people, if they think about Christ, want to think only about the light of Christ and choose to ignore his wounds–reminders of the reality of evil in his time as well as ours.

Thurman continues:

There is a Spirit at work in life and in the hearts of men which is committed to overcoming the world. It is universal, knowing no age, no race, no culture and no condition of men.

With “dedication and discipline,” the individual can confront evil and “live effectively in the chaos of the present the high destiny of a son of God.”

When we recognize our dignity as a son/daughter of God we can respond to the “chaos of the present”—but not if we deny the chaos or run from it or hide in flights of sentimental love that ignores justice.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, 205, 206.

Banner Image: “Moral Mondays.” Rev. William Barber and the NAACP lead an interfaith protest to resist hatred and discrimination in North Carolina, on 11/28/2016. Photo by Pilar Timpane on Flickr.

Since we cannot escape fear, deception, and hatred, what are ways we can avoid being controlled by them? What are ways we can blunt their influence?  Do you experience your “high destiny as a son/daughter of God”?   How does that make you strong in times of chaos?

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