Howard Thurman and Meister Eckhart: Brothers in Deep Ecumenism

Thurman was a serious deep ecumenist:

Detail from “15ª Estación: El paño de cuaresma latinoamericano: Un nuevo cielo y una nueva tierra” in the el Via Crucis Latinoamericano series by Argentine activist, community organizer, art painter, writer, sculptor, and 1980 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Adolfo Pérez Esquivel. A full description of the series, and this painting, may be found HERE.

It is my belief that in the Presence of God there is neither male nor female, white nor black, Gentile nor Jew, Protestant nor Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, nor Muslim, but a human spirit stripped to the literal substance of itself before God.  

Thurman was very taken with the concept of the spark of the soul and rightly attributes that powerful idea to Eckhart:

What Eckhart called the ‘uncreated element’ in [a person’s] soul…was an assumed fact profoundly at work in the life and thought of the early slaves.  

This much was certainly clear to them—the soul of man was immortal. It could go to heaven or hell, but it could not die. 

For Eckhart, the “spark of the soul” never dies.

Avicenna Portrait on Silver Vase – Museum at BuAli Sina (Avicenna) Mausoleum – Hamadan – Western Iran. Photo by Adam Jones on Wikimedia Commons

Eckhart stuns us when on at least thirteen different occasions while preaching on the ancilla animae or spark of the soul he gave credit to Avicenna, a Muslim philosopher who lived 200 years before Eckhart. 

In practicing deep ecumenism and giving credit for truth wherever he found it, he was standing on the shoulders of his mentor, Thomas Aquinas, who declared that “every truth without exception—and whoever may utter it—is from the Holy Spirit.”   (Of course Aquinas was fighting off the fundamentalists of his day who were beside themselves that Aquinas was citing Aristotle, a pagan scientist and wrote 12 books on Aristotle).

How ecumenical Meister Eckhart is, consciously and unconsciously, is clear in my most recent book on him where each chapter I put him in the room with another thinker from another spiritual tradition with whom he engages in deep dialog.  For example, Eckhart meets…

“When I was the Forest…I knew my soul – every soul – has always held Him.” A reading from Meister Eckhart by Donna Goddard.

…Rabbi Heschel discussing the God of Awe, Wonder, Radical Amazement and Justice.
…Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Berry on the Cosmic and Eco-Christ.
…Buddhism via Thich Nhat Hanh on the Apophatic Divinity.
…Adrienne Rich on the Divine Feminine.
…Dorothee Soelle, Beguines Mechtild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete, and Julian of Norwich on Liberated and Liberating Sisters.
…Marcus Borg, Bruce Chilton, and John Dominic Crossan on the Historical Jesus.
…Carl Jung discussing Depth Psychology.
…Otto Rank discussing Psychotherapy and the “Unio Mystica.”
…Ananda Coomaraswamy and Father Bede Griffiths on the wisdom of Hinduism.
…Rumi, Hafiz, Ibn El Arabi, and Avicenna on Sufism.
…Eddie Kneebone, Black Elk and Bill Everson on Indigenous Wisdom and Shamanism

Fr. Bede Griffiths talks about how exploring other religions and looking beyond reality to the mystery can enhance the faith you practice. Courtesy of the National Council of Churches from Search for Spirituality. Uploaded to YouTube by A Network for Grateful Living

Coomaraswamy says reading Eckhart is like reading the Upanishads and that whole sentences from Eckhart sound like they were translated from Sanskrit—how amazing to see Eckhart so at home in the deep wisdom of other traditions and they with him! 

For his part, Howard Thurman spent the last decades of his life at the Church of the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco, the first consciously ecumenical and multi-racial church in America.  Yes, Thurman and Eckhart are brothers in deep ecumenism.


Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, p. 214;

and Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Spiritual Warrior For Our Times, pp. 248, xi, xii;

and Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, pp. 65-70.

Banner Image: “Meister Eckhart” by h.koppdelaney, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0. “Howard Thurman” by On Being, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Are you a deep ecumenist?  Do you feel our times call for deep ecumenism or interfaith knowledge and practice?  How do Thurman and Eckhart help you along the way?

Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time

While Matthew Fox recognizes that Meister Eckhart has influenced thinkers throughout history, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.
“Matthew Fox is perhaps the greatest writer on Meister Eckhart that has ever existed. (He) has successfully bridged a gap between Eckhart as a shamanistic personality and Eckhart as a post-modern mentor to the Inter-faith movement, to reveal just how cosmic Eckhart really is, and how remarkably relevant to today’s religious crisis! ” — Steven Herrmann, Author of Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward

A New Reformation: Creation Spirituality & The Transformation of Christianity

A modern-day theologian’s call for the radical transformation of Christianity that will allow us to move once again from the hollow trappings of organized religion to genuine spirituality. A New Reformation echoes the Reformation initiated by Martin Luther in 1517 and offers a new vision of Christianity that values the Earth, honors the feminine, and respects science and deep ecumenism.
“This is a deep and forceful book….With prophetic insight, Matthew Fox reveals what has corrupted religion in the West and the therapy for its healing.” ~Bruce Chilton, author of Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography

The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book!  Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

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