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Everyday Mysticism
Everyday Mysticism

Alive for a Reason

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Theologian Howard Thurman (1899–1981) believed that cultivating inner stillness allows us to experience the divine. Lerita Coleman Brown writes: 

As a seminary student walking home late one night, Thurman noticed the sound of water. He had taken this route many times, and he had never heard even a drip. The next day Thurman discussed his observations with one of his professors, who told him that a canal ran underneath the street. Because the noises of streetcars, automobiles, and passersby were absent late at night, Howard could discern the sound of water.  

Thurman equates these sounds … to the inner chatter within our minds that prevents us from being aware of God’s presence. Quieting the surface noise in our minds is what Thurman urges us to do when he instructs us, as he does throughout his writings, to “center down.”  

What attracts and holds our attention determines how and when we will experience God. “In the total religious experience we learn how to wait; we learn how to ready the mind and the spirit,” he writes. “It is in the waiting, brooding, lingering, tarrying timeless moments that the essence of the religious experience becomes most fruitful. It is here that I learn to listen, to swing wide the very doors of my being, to clean out the corners and the crevices of my life—so that when His Presence invades, I am free to enjoy His coming to Himself in me.” [1] Thurman believed this activity may also require letting go of hatred and bitterness so that in coming into your center, you are coming into God as the Creator of existence because “God bottoms existence.”  

Brown finds in Thurman’s writings an invitation to be open to the possibility of everyday mysticism for all.  

Thurman demystified mysticism by framing it simply. Mystics are people who have a personal religious experience or an encounter with God. This description has freed me and many others from thinking that God appears to people only after years of prayer and living an ascetic, isolated life. Thurman believed anyone can be a mystic if they are open to the experience. He opened a door to a world where mystics move freely among us and live ordinary lives. Mystics are the ones who can hear the water flowing beneath the street. They know how to quiet the surface noise enough to hear the meaning of all things coursing below daily life.  

Everyday mystics are people who commune with the presence of God, receive guidance through prophetic visions, voices, and dreams, and commit themselves to living for God rather than solely for themselves. Their vision for life is larger and more expansive, knowing that they are alive for a reason, a purpose that will benefit human spirits they may never meet.… Thurman lived out an identity grounded in mysticism, as he regularly felt oneness with God and on occasion experienced visions. He also believed that mystical moments should stir people toward love, community, and social action. 

[1] Howard Thurman, prologue to Temptations of Jesus (Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 1978), 14. 

Lerita Coleman Brown, What Makes You Come Alive: A Spiritual Walk with Howard Thurman (Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf Books, 2023), 121–123. 

Image credit: Benjamin Yazza, Untitled (detail), New Mexico, 2023, photograph, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image. During the course of every day, mystical moments are available to us, like sharing a moment with a grasshopper. 

Story from Our Community:  

For me, to be in awe, is the most powerful moment when I am equally at peace and yet completely overwhelmed by God’s beauty and love. In that moment, I almost feel pained in my desire and need to share it with someone else. It seems as though it is too much joy to hold inside—it spills over. It is in these moments that I feel most connected to God and to the whole world. Awe is the breath of life penetrating my very being and going back to God. —Louise F. 

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