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:
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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 Style, Prayer 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.
August 13-14, 2021 (Fri-Sat)
Shamanism in Buddhism and Christianity
Session 1: Friday, August 13 at 4pm-6pm PT
Session 2: Saturday, August 14 at 9am-12pm PT
Session 3: Saturday, August 14 at 12:30pm-2:30pm PT