King, Howard Thurman and the Return of the Sacred Masculine

Several days ago, in honor of this Season of Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and holy day, I gave a talk through the Rowe Retreat Center, a UU church affiliated network, asking the question:  Do Howard Thurman, King’s spiritual mentor, and Dr. King offer some medicine to the toxic masculinity that is so prevalent today? 

Photo of Howard Thurman by On Being, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Photo of Martin Luther King, Jr., by Marion S. Trikosko, August 26th, 1964, United States. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

This search for medicine to detox the versions of masculinity that Patriarchy has left us with we have been undertaking in our DMs for several weeks now.  The rise of authoritarianism and fascism in our time is the apogee of the toxic masculine.

My answer to the question I pose is very much in the affirmative.  (The full evening of talk and discussion can be found HERE.)  Allow me to offer a brief summary.  

Robert Bly teaches that “men learn only through ritual.”  Did Dr. King teach ritual?  He surely did—his marches for justice and instructions for practicing non-violence are rituals.  As is the strategy to fill the jails—yes going to jail for justice sake is a ritual.  Almost always these protests were preceded by a church gathering that included song and preaching and prayer to gin up the energy and courage to face what lay ahead.

A short summary of the events leading up to Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and its impact. Video by Freedom Forum.

These rituals served the greater community which often joined him in the march including not just the black church but numbers of priests and sisters, lay people and rabbis from various religious traditions and none who accompanied the marchers.  An expression of deep ecumenism therefore.

We have seen that the real meaning of manliness is virtue according to Aquinas and Hildegard and Webster’s dictionary and many spiritual leaders.  King evidently shone in this regard, especially as regards the virtue of courage and the search for truth and preaching truth to power.  We honored that in yesterday’s video.

In today’s video we will consider the archetypes of the sacred masculine that we are developing currently in the DM essays and how King—and his mentor Howard Thurman—offer witness to all of them.

See Matthew Fox, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine.  

And Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics, pp. 203-217, 324-328.

Also see Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox, Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision For a New Generation, pp. xixf.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: The third Selma Civil Rights March frontline. From far left: John Lewis, an unidentified nun; Rev. Ralph Abernathy; Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Nobel laureate Ralph Bunche; Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel; Rev. Frederick Douglas Reese. Second row: Rev. Joseph Ellwanger; between Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Bunche is Rabbi Maurice Davis. Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

How do you see King and Thurman ushering in a new and deeper understanding of the healthy masculine?  And banishing the Patriarchal version of masculinity?

Recommended Reading

The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine

To awaken what Fox calls “the sacred masculine,” he unearths ten metaphors, or archetypes, ranging from the Green Man, an ancient pagan symbol of our fundamental relationship with nature,  to the Spiritual Warrior….These timeless archetypes can inspire men to pursue their higher calling to connect to their deepest selves and to reinvent the world.
“Every man on this planet should read this book — not to mention every woman who wants to understand the struggles, often unconscious, that shape the men they know.” — Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of The Left Hand of God

Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation

Authors Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox encourage us to use our talents in service of compassion and justice and to move beyond our broken systems–economic, political, educational, and religious–discovering a spirituality that not only helps us to get along, but also encourages us to reevaluate our traditions, transforming them and in the process building a more sacred and just world. Incorporating the words of young activist leaders culled from interviews and surveys, the book provides a framework that is deliberately interfaith and speaks to our profound yearning for a life with spiritual purpose and for a better world.
Occupy Spirituality is a powerful, inspiring, and vital call to embodied awareness and enlightened actions.”
~~ Julia Butterfly Hill, environmental activist and author of The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman, and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods

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4 thoughts on “King, Howard Thurman and the Return of the Sacred Masculine”

  1. Avatar

    There is a seismic shift that is taking place within the hearts, minds and souls of humanity. We are steeped in the throws, the birthing and growing pains of an emerging new story; being midwifed as we learn to participate with its full unfolding, the evolutionary budding and blossoming of our becoming… within our earth-human-spiritual-universal-cosmic relations.

    In order to nurture such transformation, we need key, living exemplars, such as King and Thurman, along with other ancestral and archetypal essences and presences… active, contemplative pioneers.. old and young; that can inspire our ways of thinking, being and living, in new ways – with a vision that generates genuine change. A new mysticism is continously being announced through the voice of the prophets… which possesses a great transformative potential for our world. As Teilhard stated, “The great converters of human beings, have always been those in whom the soul of their age and the wisdom truths of this, burnt the most intensely.”

    However, Hildegard reminds us all, that as we begin to kindle this new spark into a flame, we will at first experience alot of smoke… the veil of all our delusions and illusions which we have to move through, with much tears at the suffering and sorrowing we have caused due to our own unbalanced and dominating selfish perversions.

    1. Avatar

      Thank you Jeanette,
      Your quote from Teilhard reminded me of when I first ‘met’ him at age 20. I was a librarian’s assistant and one of my tasks was putting returned books back on the shelf. I came to Teilhard’s The Phenomenon of Man and was instantly gripped by the title. I ended up standing in the stacks reading it for awhile. Ultimately I bought his other books including Hymn of the Universe. I wonder now if Teilhard’s concept of the Omega Point is especially relevant at this time…

    2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, You write, that in order to nurture the kind of transformation we need today, we need “living exemplars,” such as King and Thurman, and I would add Matthew, Luisah Teish, Starhawk, Andrew Harvey and other pioneers such as Hildegard, Mechtild, Eckhart, and Julian, that can inspire our ways of thinking, being and living, in new ways, as you also say… Thank you for your comment!

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