Thurman was committed to the truth that all persons are mystics. Anyone can be broken through at any time by an encounter with the Divine. And this experience forms the basis of life-change and life-decisions. Meister Eckhart called this experience breakthrough (he invented the word in German (Durchbruch) and said: “In breakthrough I learn that God and I are one.”
Thurman’s testimony follows:
The incidents of a man’s life may, without a moment’s notice, catapult him into the midst of the experience which is completely irradiated with the presence of God. In any wilderness the unsuspecting traveler may come upon the burning bush, and discover that the ground upon which he stands is holy ground. Wherever such occurs, we may be sure that even though the context itself may be casual or even random, the experience itself is not.
Thurman continuously returns to this experience, the basis of all mysticism, as the center of one’s religious consciousness and work in the world that alone constitutes the essence of authentic religion.
The Via Negativa is also richly developed in Thurman’s work. Regarding asceticism, he concludes that “the religion of the inner life at its best is life affirming rather than life-denying.”
What about the need to detach ourselves from those life-forces that are fragmenting, divisive, and overly attaching?
Silence is the answer. Thurman teaches, “Becoming still within.” There “the individual becomes conscious of what is there all the time. ‘Be Still and know that I am God.’ is the way the Psalmist puts it.”
When one can learn to be still:
…a strange thing happens. It is very difficult to put into words. The initiative slips out of one’s hands and into the hands of God, the other Principal in the religious experience. The self moves toward God. Such movement seems to have the quality of innate and fundamental stirring.
Thurman says that “religious experience in its profoundest dimension is the finding of man by God and the finding of God by man.” Thus the letting go processes of our lives are in the last analysis positive, not negative. “The mystical experience is only in a limited way life denying. It becomes in its most profound sense life affirming.”
Suffering and loss urge letting go upon us. Thurman feels we should respond to it by admitting its hold on us and taking it directly to God. Our “acute hostility cannot be resolved or drained off until the individual faces God with this fact.” If we refuse to take our anger to God,
…we repress our true feelings about the evil with which we wrestle, and meanwhile our God becomes a sleeping ghost among the stark hills of our own barren wasteland.
What happens when we take our pain and hostility to God? “A kind of ultimate suction takes place which empties us completely.” Emptying becomes a new source of energy, a new encounter with the Divine. It “has the possibility of ‘readying’ the spirit for religious experience.”
Adapted from Matthew Fox, “Howard Thurman: A Creation-Centered Mystic,” in Creation Spirituality magazine, March/April, 1991, pp. 8f.
And Matthew Fox, Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, pp. 302-312.
Banner Image: Maardu Hiiem Forest is a sacred grove in the villages of Saha and Maardu in Jõelähtme Parish, Estonia. Photo by Ilme Parik on Wikimedia Commons.
Do you learn that “God and I are one” in your many breakthroughs? Do you find “being still” integral to your spiritual journey and that emptying readies your spirit for still more breakthroughs?