Thurman insists that emptying becomes a new source of energy, a new encounter with the Divine. It holds within it the possibility of “readying the spirit for religious experience.” A kind of courage and perception can result.
What matters is that we become “stripped to the literal substance of ourselves before God.”
One emptying that we undergo in life is detaching ourselves from the tribal boxes in which we often put ourselves and this certainly applies to religion—we are made for bigger than simplistic identities. For example, says Thurman,
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.
What a powerful statement about interfaith, interbeing, deep ecumenism, inclusion, spirituality (as distinct from religion) this insight is! And, about the vastness of the mind of God. Thurman insists it is available to us all and it follows from being true to the great lessons that the via negativa experience teaches us.
Thurman also addresses lessons of the via negativa we learn through social struggle and racism.
What, then, is the word of the religion of Jesus to those who stand with their backs against the wall? There must be the clearest possible understanding of the anatomy of the issues facing them. They must recognize fear, deception, hatred, each for what it is. Once having done this, they must learn how to destroy these or to render themselves immune to their domination. In so great an undertaking it will become increasingly clear that the contradictions of life are not ultimate.
We can look squarely in the eye of fear and deception and hatred and become “immune” to them.
The disinherited will know for themselves that there is a Spirit at work in life and in the hearts of men which is committed to overcoming the world. It is universal, knowing no age, no race, no culture and no condition of men. For the privileged and the under privileged alike, if the individual puts at the disposal of the Spirit the needful dedication and discipline, he can live effectively in the chaos of the present the high destiny of a son of God.
Thurman believes we can live the “high destiny” of a son or daughter of God in the real world. He believes that the Spirit which teaches us the way is “universal,” and not subject to any age or race or culture. We can achieve this if we put ourselves “at the disposal of the Spirit” and commit ourselves to dedication and discipline.
Notice how he names the “chaos of the present” as being real and what it forces us to undergo. But it does not have the last word and can ready us for the Spirit and for another and high destiny as a son or daughter of God.
Adapted from: Adapted from Matthew Fox, “Howard Thurman: A Creation-Centered Mystic.” Creation Spirituality Magazine, March/April 1991, p. 9f.
And from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics, # 214, 204f.
Banner Image: Dancing in the shadows. Photo by Fernando Rodrigues on Unsplash
Queries for Contemplation
What have you learned from your experiences of emptying? How valuable have been those lessons?
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Shamanism in Buddhism and Christianity
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