Thurman’s experience as a wonder-filled child as well as his peoples’ experience from an African Earth-based reverence for the cosmos permeates his many rich self-disclosures.  He draws on both sources when he writes:

Stone Circle. Photo by Joeri Römer on Unsplash

There is magic all around us—in the rocks, the trees, and the minds of men… and he who strikes the rock aright may find them where he will… There can be no thing that does not have within it the signature of God, the Creator of life, the living substance out of which all particular manifestations arise.

This is Cosmic Christ theology.

It is also eco-theology—notice how he glides so smoothly from the magic in rocks and trees to that in the minds of human beings.  No anthropocentrism there.  He grasps that the rocks and trees precede the human; and that humanity depends on and is thoroughly interdependent with the more-than-human beings.

Finding the “magic all around us” is finding the divine presence all around us.  Through us.  And within us.  It is encountering the kingdom/queendom of God.

Seeking the wisdom of the Standing Ones. Photo by Rota-Alternativa on Unsplash.

Thurman wrestled continuously with images of God, with how we can best name our mystical experience. One conclusion he reached strikes me as close to what I came to in my book, On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear (later, Prayer: A Radical Response to Life) where I define prayer as “a radical response to life.”

Thurman writes:

God is not merely the Creator of creatures, of all objects animate and inanimate; but also, and more importantly… God is the creator of life itself. Existence is the creation; life is the creation of God.  

I hear echoes of Eckhart’s teaching, “isness is God.”

Thurman calls us from the personal to the cosmic when he declares:

We are so overwhelmed by the personal but vast impact of the particularity of living objects that we are scarcely aware of a much more profound fact in our midst and that is that life itself is alive.  

He insists that our “Encounter with God… must be with One who is seen as holding within His context all that there is, including existence itself.” This is panentheism.

“Awakening” Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash

Thurman was totally committed to the truth that all persons are mystics who can be broken through at any time by an encounter with the Divine. And this experience forces the basis of life-change and life-decisions.

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. Whenever 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, that the divine presence is everywhere to be found.  It provides the basis of all mysticism and therefore all our efforts at work in the world.

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

See also: Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics, pp. 210, 215.

Also Matthew Fox, Prayer, a Radical Response to Life

Banner Image: Tree at Sunset, Tsavo East National Park, Kenya. Photo by Damian Patkowski on Unsplash

In how many different places and on how many different occasions have you encountered the burning bush in your life and work?

Recommended Reading

Prayer: A Radical Response to Life
How do prayer and mysticism relate to the struggle for social and ecological justice? Fox defines prayer as a radical response to life that includes our “Yes” to life (mysticism) and our “No” to forces that combat life (prophecy). How do we define adult prayer? And how—if at all—do prayer and mysticism relate to the struggle for social and ecological justice? One of Matthew Fox’s earliest books, originally published under the title On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear: Spirituality American StylePrayer introduces a mystical/prophetic spirituality and a mature conception of how to pray. Called a “classic” when it first appeared, it lays out the difference between the creation spirituality tradition and the fall/redemption tradition that has so dominated Western theology since Augustine. A practical and theoretical book, it lays the groundwork for Fox’s later works.
“One of the finest books I have read on contemporary spirituality.” – Rabbi Sholom A. Singer


Join Matthew Fox for a thought-provoking 7-week course: Answer the Call for an Uncommon Life Through the Mystical Teachings of St. Hildegard, Tuesdays, 6/15 to 7/27. While the course has begun, registration remains open, with recordings of past classes available. Learn more HERE.

Join us for a Virtual Teach-in with Isa Gucciardi and Matthew Fox, hosted by Rev. Cameron Trimble.
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3 thoughts on “Thurman on the Via Positiva, continued”

  1. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    I personally, continuously encounter the burning bush you speak of in today’s DM when emersed in nature. This week I had a particularly challenging conversation with someone, that was quite upsetting… so I decided to take some space and distance and go for a walk in a green space in the middle of the city. I needed to hear from spirit to help me with all the thoughts and feelings that had arisen to the surface, that I was having trouble working through. I stopped to sit on a park bench and a morning dove landed three feet from me, simply resting on the ground beside me. After a little while I walked on coming upon a little bridge. As I stood on the center of the bridge watching the Red River waters flow… a weasel jumped out of the bushes… swam into the shallows, picked up something from the bottom and carried it back to the bushes. After a little while I walked on further following the trails, coming upon another bridge. As I stood still focusing on the river, there in the waters I saw the most elegant heron … standing tall, still and tranquil as the waters flowed all around her. For a long time I watched and listened. I walked onward down the path… there I found a lost set of two keys on the path… which I picked up and layed on a park bench. When I returned home I journaled about all of the things that I had encountered upon my meditative and contemplative walk… trusting that each encounter was a gift given from Spirit, for me to intuitively begin to understand the meaning of… which helped me deal with the challenging conversation which had caused me such upset earlier that day. For me, this is one of the many ways and precious moments in which I personally encounter the burning bush… the living presence and essence of the Spirit of God, speaking to my heart, mind and soul… through the creation of the all and the everything.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, I think you have caught the spirit of the true meaning of “the burning bush.” Your words remind me of Meister Eckhart, where he says, “Every creature is a word of God. If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature–even a caterpillar–I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God is every creature.” And so we could say that “Every creature is a word of God” and “Every creature is a ‘burning bush.'” Thank you again for your comments!

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