Thursday, July 16, 2015

Remembering: We Belong to One Another

In the wake of recent events, I find myself returning to the work of my favorite theologian, Howard Thurman. 

From the The Luminous Darkness, he writes "The fact that the first 23 years of my life were spent in Florida and in Georgia has left its scars deep in my spirit and has rendered me terribly sensitive to the churning abyss separating white from black.... Nevertheless, knowing all of that, experiencing all of that, nevertheless a strange necessity has been laid upon me to devote my life to the central concern that transcends the walls that divide and would achieve in literal fact what is experienced as literal truth: human life is one and all men [and women] are members of one of another."

Howard Thurman lived out of a profound conviction that we human beings belong to one another. His conviction occupied his entire life.

Thurman would become the founder of the first interracial, interdenominational church in America: The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco. He would mentor Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders. He would become the first African American dean at an Ivy League school. He would touch so many lives both during his life and after through his profound reflections and ministry.

At the end of his extraordinary life, he began putting together a compilation of his writings that articulated what was most important to him. I find it striking that in the first passage, he begins by quoting George Fox: “There are miracles in the spirt of which the world knows nothing.” The rest of the passage is below.

We all participate in both an inward journey and a journey within the wider world. What is not entirely obvious, Thurman suggests, is that our journey and participation in the world is largely guided by our inward journey--by what we love, by what we commit ourselves to, by how we cultivate the disciplines of the spirit. 

This summer I am taking the opportunity to go through For the Inward Journey. It is the compilation of his writings that he began just before he died. Because he didn’t finish, his daughter Anne Spencer Thurman finished the task. The result is a collection of essays and reflections that I first discovered in seminary. 

In these writings I find not only a kindred spirit but a guide. 

It matters that he carried the scars of growing up black in Florida and Georgia in the early 20th century. He came to understand Jesus as someone who knew oppression and struggle, who provided him a guide on how to stay connected to his deepest calling all the while heading into his growing edge. 

I invite you to join me in reflecting on the work of Howard Thurman. For the Inward Journey is an excellent introduction to his writings that I first began reflecting on when I took a course on his life and work while in seminary. 

Love with Courage,

From For the Inward Journey by Howard Thurman
"There are miracles in the spirit of which the world knows nothing." Such is the testimony that comes to us from the lips of George Fox. Our lives are surrounded day by day and night after eventful night by the stupendous revelations of what [humanity] is discovering about the world around us. Each day we seem to penetrate more deeply into the process of nature. Thousands of women and men with utter devotion give themselves to the pursuit of secret disclosures from the chamber of mysteries of which they themselves are a part and from which they have come forth. It is as if there is a mighty collective and individual effort to remember what they were before the mind became mind and the body became flesh and blood. So successful has been the appropriation of the knowledge of the mysteries of air and wind and earth that what a decade ago would have startled and frightened the most mature adult is today taken for granted by the simplest child. We speak of going to the moon not as denizens of the shadows where unrealities tumble over one another in utter chaos. Rather we speak of going to the moon and back again with voices that are brimming over with an arrogance that even a god may not command. 

But let one arise in our midst to speak of secrets of another kind. Let one say that the world of the spirit has vast frontiers which call to us as our native heath. At once the deep split in our spirits reveals itself. Out of our eyes, as we listen, there leaps the steady glow of recognition while our lips speak of superstition and delusion. Can the miracles in the spirit be real, true? Because they seem always to be personal and private, does this not add to their unreality? 

The miracles of the spirit? What are they? The resolving of inner conflict upon which all he lances of the mind have splintered and fallen helplessly from the hand; the daring of the spirit that puts to rout the evil deed and the decadent unfaith; the experiencing of new purposes which give courage to the weak, hope to the despairing, life to those burdened by sin and failure; the quality of reverence that glows within the mind, illumining it with incentive to bring necessity for inner and outer peace as the meaning of all [humanity]’s striving; the discovery that the “Covenant of Brotherhood” is the witness of the work of the Spirit of God in the life of human beings and the hymn of praise offered as Thanksgiving and Glory!

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