Mystic: Howard Thurman
Opening the Doors of My Being
Monday, July 22, 2019
This week we’re reflecting on the writings of Howard Thurman. (See Sunday’s meditation for my introduction.) Today Thurman explores how prayer is not a transaction, nor is it about changing God. It’s about opening our hearts, minds, and bodies to be receptive to God’s already and always presence:
The place and significance of spiritual disciplines and exercises cannot be overemphasized. It is important, however, to understand what that significance is. There is no necessitous relationship between the disciplines and the awareness of God’s presence. All disciplines of this character are meant to “ready” the mind, the emotions, the spirit. They are no guarantor of Presence.
This is the miracle, the heights and depths of wonder and awe. God reveals His Presence out of the mystery of Being. With all of my passionate endeavor, I cannot command that He obey. All of my prayers, my meditation, my vast and compelling urgency or need cannot order, woo or beg God into the revealing of His Presence. Even my need and my desperation cannot command Him. There is an overwhelming autonomy here; God does move in a mysterious way His wonders to perform. But He is so full of such wonderful and heartening surprises.
In the total religious experience we learn how to wait; we learn how to ready the mind and the spirit. 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. . . .
I work at preparing my mind, my spirit for the moment when God comes to Himself in me. When it happens, I experience His Presence. When this experience becomes an object of thought and reflection, it is then that my mind creates dogmas, creeds and doctrines. These are the creations of the mind and are therefore always after the fact of the religious experience. But they are always out of date. The religious experience is always current, always fresh. [Emphasis mine—RR.] In it I hear His Voice in my own tongue and in accordance with the grain in my own wood. In that glorious and transcendent moment, it may easily seem to me that all there is, is God.
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.
Howard Thurman, Temptations of Jesus: Five Sermons given in Marsh Chapel, Boston University, 1962 (Friends United Press: 1978), 14-15. See Howard Thurman: Essential Writings, ed. Luther E. Smith, Jr. (Orbis: 2006), 45-46.