Howard Thurman and the Marriage of Psyche and Cosmos

We have been journeying with mystics who grasp the importance of connecting our inner selves (psyche) to the cosmos, and thus growing our souls.  Mystics like Thomas Merton, Teilhard de Chardin, Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen, Ernesto Cardinal, Dorothee Soelle and more.

“Vincent Harding on Howard Thurman’s Spiritual Journey.” Video by Howard Thurman Film.

Another giant deserving to be appreciated both as a mystic and prophet and spiritual genius behind Dr. King and many others in the civil rights movement, as well as for his connection with Mahatma Gandhi, is Howard Thurman.  Thurman, a man of depth and integrity blessed with a poetic voice, calls on his African roots often to speak a resounding word to the world. 

His voice is thoroughly inclusive—not only of diversity of religions and races but also of the human person in relationship to the rest of nature.  Why wouldn’t a creation-centered mystic be inclusive?  Nature and creation certainly are.

Years ago I wrote that for me

experiencing Howard Thurman is like coming home. The Four Paths of Creation Spirituality are deeply attested to in his life and in his understanding of the spiritual journey. His passion for deep ecumenism, for justice, for a cosmic mysticism, all ring familiar bells when I read him.

Trailer to Backs Against The Wall: The Howard Thurman Story. Video by MPT National – Maryland Public Television.

Of course, one reason for this is that as a young man he studied the mysticism of Meister Eckhart with the Quaker Rufus Jones. In addition, as a university student Thurman wrote a major study on Francis of Assisi, and he loved Henry Adam’s Mont St. Michel and Chartres, a classic work on the cosmological mysticism of the middle ages.

In other words, Thurman, in tune with his pre-modern African roots, also found much nourishment in the mystical tradition of the medieval period, the West’s last attempt at living a Creation and cosmic Spirituality (which pretty much ended with the bubonic plague of the fourteenth century unfortunately).

Thurman, however, like every authentic mystic and unlike mere commentators on other’s mystical experience, is deeply original. He does not come to Eckhart from a theory about mysticism; he comes to Eckhart from his own experience of the divine. Thurman is a mystic and a theologian in his own right.

“Sitting in the Grass” by Nicholas Githiri, on Pexels

Nevertheless, to demonstrate how much a part of the living, creation, mystical tradition he is, and to assist the vast process of attempting some organization to Thurman’s voluminous writings, I would like to consider his teachings within a framework of the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality.

Regarding the Via Positiva, there is every evidence that Thurman was very much a nature mystic from his childhood days growing up close to land and sea in Florida. Consider this testimony from his autobiography:

As a child, the boundaries of my life spilled over into the mystery of the ocean and the wonder of the dark nights and the wooing of the wind until the breath of Nature and my own breath seemed to be one—it was resonant to the tonality of God. This was a part of my cosmic religious experience as I grew up.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, “Howard Thurman: A Creation-Centered Mystic.” Creation Spirituality Magazine, March/April 1991, p. 8.

See also: Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics, p. 217.

Banner Image: “Meditation” Photo by Nappystock. Public Domain.

Have you experienced the breath of Nature and your own breath as resonant to the tonality of God?  And the wooing of the wind and plenty of cosmic religious experiences as a child?

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7 thoughts on “Howard Thurman and the Marriage of Psyche and Cosmos”

      1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
        Richard Reich-Kuykendall

        I tend to agree with the idea of God as Great Spirit and in the panentheistic God who is in all things and all things are in God…

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    When I contemplate the title of Thurman’s book Jesus and the Disinherited, I am more aware that the only way we can fully understand the ‘historical’ Jesus is to pay attention to a fact that underlies Paul’s statement in that ‘in his flesh’ Jesus made Jews and Gentiles into One Ephesians [2: 13-18]. It is necessary to lift the veil on the Roman occupation of Judea and take into account the fact that Roman overlords created a host mixed blood offspring by their forced engagement with Jewish ‘virgins’. Modern example: the mixed blood offspring of American soldiers and Vietnamese women became outcasts in their own community who labelled them ‘Children of the Dust’. These children were raised by the mothers and grandmothers who did not abandon them. Thurman wasn’t mixed race himself but he knew that creating a dividing line between black and white, slave and free was a central Gospel imperative.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Gwen, in reading your comment I hear you saying that “mixed blood” was created by Romans who raped Jewish virgins, then you say that again “mixed blood” was created by American soldiers who had sex with Vietnamese women. Finally you say that Thurman was not of “mixed blood” himself BUT then you say, “he knew that creating a dividing line between black and white, slave and free was a central Gospel imperative.” I thought the point of the gospel was NOT to create a dividing line but to abolish the dividing line…

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        Thank you very much Richard for the correction. I should have done one more edit. Of course the point of the gospel was NOT to create a dividing line which would obliterate the fact that we are all One, something that Jesus experienced and proclaimed….

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