The “Givenness of God” — Center for Action and Contemplation

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See the schedule and event session details for the final CONSPIRE conference (Sep. 24 – 26)

The “Givenness of God”

Nature, Cosmos, and Connection

The “Givenness of God”
Friday, February 19, 2021

To Jesus, God was Creator of life and the living substance, the Living Stream upon which all things moved, the Mind containing time, space, and all their multitudinous offspring. And beyond all these, He was Friend and Father. —Howard Thurman, Disciplines of the Spirit

The work of theologian Howard Thurman was heavily influenced by his own mystical experiences. From a very young age, he felt God’s real and loving presence, whether he was on the water, in the garden, or looking up at the night sky. He knew he lived in a safe and sacred universe and this Big-T Truth became the foundation of all of his teaching. Like Jesus, the mystics, and all great teachers, Thurman takes what is personal and makes it universal. Walter Brueggemann calls this “the scandal of particularity.” [1] We “get it” in one ordinary, concrete moment and wrestle and fall in love with it there. It’s a scandal precisely because it’s so ordinary. What is true in one place finally ends up being true everywhere. In this passage, Thurman applies this youthful lesson to prayer:

One night I was awakened by my mother, who asked if I would like to see the comet [Halley’s Comet]. I got up, dressed quickly, and went out with her into the back yard. There I saw in the heavens the awesome tail of the comet and stood transfixed. With deep anxiety I asked, without taking my eyes off it, “What will happen to us when that thing falls out of the sky?” There was a long silence during which I felt the gentle pressure of her fingers on my shoulders; then I looked into her face and saw what I had seen on another occasion, when without knocking I had rushed into her room and found her in prayer. At last she said, “Nothing will happen to us, Howard. God will take care of us.” In that moment something was touched and kindled in me, a quiet reassurance that has never quite deserted me. As I look back on it, what I sensed then was the fact that what stirred in me was one with what created and controlled the comet. It was this inarticulate awareness that silenced my fear and stilled my panic.

Here at once is the primary ground and basis of people’s experience of prayer. I am calling it, for the purpose of this discussion, the “givenness of God” as expressed in the hunger of the heart. This is native to personality, and when it becomes part of a person’s conscious focus it is prayer at its best and highest. It is the movement of the heart of a person toward God; a movement that in a sense is within God—God in the heart sharing its life with God the Creator of all Life. The hunger itself is God, calling to God.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Augsburg Publishing House: 1984), 162.

Howard Thurman, Disciplines of the Spirit (Friends United Press: 1963), 86–87. Note: Minor edits made to incorporate gender-inclusive language.

Story from Our Community:
These daily readings on the cosmos really resonate with me. When out under a dark quiet night sky observing everything I am struck with such wonder and serenity that it feels truly mystical. Although a science-based hobby, astronomy had certainly impacted my spiritual life and has made me completely in awe of the immensity of God. —Barry D.

Image credit: Warren K. Leffler, Demonstrators sit, with their feet in the Reflecting Pool, during the March on Washington, 1963 (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration:  When we look at nature do we think of the cosmos? When we look at the cosmos does it bring nature to mind? We are intimately connected on micro and macro scales beyond our human capacity to understand. We sit together to rest our feet, in the midst of nature, cosmos and great shifts in consciousness.
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