In this sermon, noted pastor, theologian, and mystic Howard Thurman (1900–1981) describes the faith of the Hebrew prophets:
The prophets of Israel were intimately tied up with the movements of the periods in which they lived. They were involved in the social process, which is very important to remember. They interpreted Israel and its relationship to God … as a primary and personal covenantal relationship. And it is very important to hold that in mind that, for reasons that we cannot quite understand even to this day, in some strange and fascinating and yet miraculous manner this group of people regarded themselves as being [in] some initially unique relationship with the Creator of their own lives and their little world and their little state.…
Now fundamental to this concept … is a philosophy which to read it says that God is inside the historic process: that [God] is not outside of it manipulating it or unmindful of it.
Prophets view God as actively involved in our lives, and Thurman challenges us to respond to this dynamic intimacy:
How do you interpret the events of your life? How do you measure them? Do you live your life on the basis that all that there is to you and what you do is wrapped up in the movement, the isolated, circumscribed movement, pulse beat of your little life? Now, if you do, then you know, you see, that the very nature of life is of such that it is fixed … it is finished, it is complete, and you know you can’t do anything about anything anyway so you don’t try.…
Now there is another point of view, and this is the point of view of the prophet. And that is that human life, as well as the lives of nations, takes place within a context that is dynamic. That always when I am in the presence of any event, I am caught in an encounter with a series of potentials that spread out in the widest possible directions and with the most amazing variety of variation. So that if I am alert in the presence of the event, I seek to deal with the event in terms not merely of what it says, what it looks like, but in terms of what seems to me to be the dynamics of the event, the potentials of the event.
Do you deal with events of your life in that way? Do you believe that life is really dynamic? That it isn’t quite finished yet? That not only are you involved always in a circling series of potentials, but that you are potential. You, potential. And no time band, no time interval is able quite to contain you and the dynamics of your life and your situation. Do you believe that?
Howard Thurman, “The Message of Isaiah II,” June 22, 1952, in Moral Struggle and the Prophets, ed. Peter Eisenstadt and Walter Earl Fluker (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2020), 156, 157, 158–159.
Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Untitled Bosque (detail), New Mexico, photograph, used with permission. Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 10 (detail), New Mexico, photograph, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.
Image inspiration: This year’s images are inspired in form by the 2023 Daily Meditation theme. This week’s main photo takes up most of the image, but we also see a sliver of the image for next week: the next step on our journey.
Story from Our Community:
I have always had a hyperactive mind that insists on questioning conventional wisdom—not because I believe it’s wrong, but because I’ve always felt it’s important to ask: “Doggone it, how do we KNOW it’s true?” Whenever I voice these concerns, I seem to get a lot of blank stares in response. This is, I’ve found, a lonely way to live. So, when I read Richard’s quote on prophets, I felt seen and deeply nourished: “What everybody is saying, whatever the glib agreement is, prophets say, ‘it’s not true.’” Now, I wouldn’t call myself a prophet, but in those words, I hear that I’m not alone, that there’s a whole class of people who think along the same lines. Those words make me feel encouraged and sustain my deepest self. Thank you. —John B.