For Howard Thurman our feeling that we are part of our “total environment” is part and parcel of holiness.  He was ahead of many theologians and activists and religious figures when it came to standing up to the ecocide that humanity is involved in and that still, fifty years after his death, half of American politicians remain in complete denial about. 

“Right now, dangerous industrial activity is legally permitted, while resisting it is criminalised. But we can change this.” Video uploaded to YouTube by Stop Ecocide International. Learn more and take action HERE.

As prophets do, he broke through the sleep of denial and anthropocentrism and species narcissism that shuts its eyes to climate.

Consider this teaching: 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 illuminates the spiritual malaise that has brought about the great devastation of the planet through ecological neglect.

Rather than spending free time connecting with nature, children now spend most of their leisure interacting with technology, resulting in “Nature Deficit Disorder.” Photo by Alex Haney on Unsplash

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.

For standing up to eco-destruction, Thurman deserves to be called a Green Man.  For a Green Man (or  Green Woman) is a spiritual warrior who is committed to saving Mother Earth.  Here too, Thurman links hands with Hildegard of Bingen, for it was in her day, the 12th century, that the Green Man came to the fore riding into consciousness as it were on the coattails (or long gown?) of the goddess. 

Two Green Men, Chartres Cathedral, southern porch. Photographer unknown.

For example, at Chartres Cathedral, constructed in that century, there are about 174 images of the goddess (Mary in many manifestations) and 42 images of the Green Man.  Hildegard wrote about the Green Man which was so alive in her time and even says that “Christ is a Green Man” or the “green figure itself” who “brought lush greenness” to “shrived and wilted” humanity. 

One of the first steps in being a Green Man is connecting to the whole, to the cosmos, for as Thomas Berry observes, “ecology is functional cosmology.”  Thurman speaks about our need as human beings for a cosmology: 

“Howard County Library System STEM Cosmology class, Savage, MD branch” Photo by Howard County Library System on Flickr.

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.

Today science is gifting us with a new story of the universe, one that is being understood around the world.  To be continued

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, pp. 216, 203. 

See also Matthew Fox, “The Green Man,” in Matthew Fox, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine, chapter two, pp. 19-32.

Banner Image: Hildegard of Bingen – Selestat (Alsace); Saint Faith church; photo by Wolfgang Sauber; on Wikimedia Commons. Howard Thurman Howard University chapel – detail of stained glass window. Photo by Fourandsixty on Wikimedia Commons.

Do you agree that humanity is often living in an illusion that we are separate from nature?  Doesn’t it follow that we are separate from ourselves because we too are nature?  When politician get stuck in this mentality that shows in denial of climate change, isn’t it imperative that new people run for office?  How about yourself?

The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine

To awaken what Fox calls “the sacred masculine,” he unearths ten metaphors, or archetypes, ranging from the Green Man, an ancient pagan symbol of our fundamental relationship with nature,  to the Spiritual Warrior….These timeless archetypes can inspire men to pursue their higher calling to connect to their deepest selves and to reinvent the world.
“Every man on this planet should read this book — not to mention every woman who wants to understand the struggles, often unconscious, that shape the men they know.” — Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of The Left Hand of God

Responses are welcomed. To add your comment, please click HERE or scroll to the bottom of the page.

Share this meditation


Daily Meditations with Matthew Fox is made possible through the generosity of donors. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation

Search Meditations





Receive our daily meditations

4 thoughts on “Howard Thurman as a Green Man, Hildegard as a Green Woman”

  1. Avatar
    Patricia rodemann

    Just a heartfelt thank you for awesomeness from this panentheistic one who also appreciated Teilhard, Berry and Native, Celtic, Franciscan, & many Asian traditions. So needed in the feed of news!

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Thank you so much for your comment, Patricia. You mention the word “panentheism” here but two other words that are important in terms of the list of people and traditions you mention is: “deep ecumenism” a term that Matthew coined and which he speaks of as a new birth which will “cut through all cultures and all religions and indeed will draw for the wisdom common to all vital mystical traditions in a global religious awakening I call ‘deep ecumenism.'”

  2. Avatar

    The more we learn to live from our hearts ( chakra color green! ), love that is all inclusive becomes more and more obvious.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Thank you for your comment Martha. And if you would like to read what Matthew has to say about all of the chakras, read his book. Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh–where he compares them with the “Seven Deadly Sins” and the Seven Sacraments…

Leave a Comment

To help moderate the volume of responses, the Comment field is limited to 1500 characters (roughly 300 words), with one comment per person per day.

Please keep your comments focused on the topic of the day's Meditation.

As always, we look forward to your comments!!
The Daily Meditation Team

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join us in meditation that supports your compassionate action

Receive Matthew Fox's Daily Meditation by subscribing below: