Mystic: Howard Thurman
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Like many mystics, Howard Thurman saw that humans need to relate to a God that is both beyond rational thought—what I might call a force field of love—and very relatable and personal. This is why Christians have both Jesus and Christ: In Jesus, God was given a face and a heart we could trust, in one moment of time. Christ is God’s presence incarnated in all of Creation, before and beyond time. Read how Thurman understands this:
Not only is faith a way of knowing, a form of knowledge, but it is also one of life’s great teachers. At no point is this fact more clearly demonstrated than in an individual’s growing knowledge of God. It is obvious that, in the last analysis, proof of the existence of God is quite impossible. A simple reason for this is the fact that, if there is that to which God may be finally reduced, then He is not ultimate. But let us not be led astray by this apparent abstraction. Faith teaches a man that God is. The human spirit has two fundamental demands that must be met relative to God. First, He must be vast, limitless, transcendent, all-comprehensive, so that there is no thing that is outside the wide reaches of His apprehension. The stars in the universe, the great galaxies of spatial groupings moving in endless rhythmic patterns in the trackless skies, as well as the tiny blade of grass by the roadside, are all within His grasp. The second demand is that He be personal and intimate. A man must have a sense of being cared for, of not being alone and stranded in the universe. All of us want the assurance of not being deserted by life nor deserted in life. Faith teaches us that God is—that He is the fact of life from which all other things take their meaning and reality. When Jesus prayed, he was conscious that, in his prayer, he met the Presence, and this consciousness was far more important and significant than the answering of his prayer. It is for this reason primarily that God was for Jesus the answer to all the issues and the problems of life. When I, with all my mind and heart, truly seek God and give myself in prayer, I, too, meet His Presence, and then I know for myself that Jesus was right.
A note on language from Thurman’s editors: “We realize that inclusive language is noticeably absent in Howard Thurman’s writings. As gifted and prophetic as he was, Howard Thurman was also a product of his times, and inclusive language was not a part of the social consciousness. Regardless of language, the substance of Howard Thurman’s work is inclusive. His life and theology were inclusive, and if he were writing today his language would more accurately reflect this worldview.”  While his masculine words might suggest that Thurman didn’t consider other perspectives, he did see many women in his life (for example, his mentor Mary McLeod Bethune and his wife Sue Bailey Thurman) as peers and leaders. We must grant this same sympathy to all those who write with sincerity in previous times and various cultures.
 Editors, Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart (Beacon Press: 1999), 6. See Sunday’s meditation for my introduction to Howard Thurman.
Howard Thurman, Deep Is the Hunger: Meditations for Apostles of Sensitiveness (Friends United Press: 1978, ©1951), 145-146. See Howard Thurman: Essential Writings, ed. Luther E. Smith, Jr. (Orbis: 2006), 43.