Life goes on: The wisdom of Howard Thurman

This morning, my dear friend and mentor, who knows my heart too well, forwarded Howard Thurman’s uplifting meditation, aptly titled “Life Goes On.” For those readers who are less familiar with the man, Howard Washington Thurman (1889-1991) was an African American theologian, mystic, prolific writer, and mentor to civil rights activists including Martin Luther King, Jr. His influence is as crucial to dealing with the circumstances our contemporary expression of hopelessness as it was during his lifetime and it is worth taking the time to learn about the man and study his words. Tomes of information on Thurman exists, and his timeless books are still in print and readily available. I’m no shill for Amazon, but click here to learn about the many titles penned by this great man, and give yourself a gift today.

I suggest you read “Life Goes On” multiple times, like a lectio divina, noticing the arrangement of Thurman’s thoughts and the feelings that arise in you as his words fill you. Notice the way he gradually lifts the shade of darkness to expose what the great deception of despair prevents us from seeing. Indeed, hopelessness is a form of blindness.

I find it striking that Thurman identifies the human spirit as the target of evil. How true this is. Isn’t it the lack of hope that brings on both despair and violence, and the countless variations of each? In terms of self-preservation there seem to be two base responses to hopelessness: we either internalize it—increasing our personal boundaries so much we block even the tiniest bit of light, or we externalize it, expressing fabrications of personal power, selfishness and greed to prevent the re-entry of light entirely.

Surely we can think of people who live their whole lives in one or the other states of hopelessness. That’s not living. Please read, comment, share. Lift the shade.

“Life Goes On”

By Howard Thurman

During these turbulent times we must remind ourselves repeatedly that life goes on.

This we are apt to forget.

The wisdom of life transcends our wisdoms; the purpose of life outlasts our purposes; the process of life cushions our processes.

The mass attack of disillusion and despair, distilled out of the collapse of hope, has so invaded our thoughts that what we know to be true and valid seems unreal and ephemeral. There seems to be little energy left for aught but futility.

This is the great deception.

By it whole peoples have gone down to oblivion without the will to affirm the great and permanent strength of the clean and the commonplace.

Let us not be deceived.

It is just as important as ever to attend to the little graces by which the dignity of our lives is maintained and sustained.

Birds still sing; the stars continue to cast their gentle gleam over the desolation of the battlefields, and the heart is still inspired by the kind word and the gracious deed.

There is no need to fear evil.

There is every need to understand what it does, how it operates in the world, what it draws upon to sustain itself.

We must not shrink from the knowledge of the evilness of evil.

Over and over we must know that the real target of evil is not destruction of the body, the reduction to rubble of cities; the real target of evil is to corrupt the human spirit and to give the soul the contagion of inner disintegration.

When this happens, there is nothing left, the very citadel of the human being is captured and laid waste.

Therefore, the evil in the world around us must not be allowed to move from without to within.

This would be to be overcome by evil.

To drink in the beauty that is within reach, to clothe one’s life with simple deeds of kindness, to keep alive a sensitiveness to the movement of the spirit of God in the quietness of the human heart and in the workings of the human mind— this is as always the ultimate answer to the great deception.

[Excerpted from Meditations of the Heart (Beacon Press, 1981), 110-11 with modest adaption]

One thought on “Life goes on: The wisdom of Howard Thurman

  1. The news gets worse by the day, and is so alarming. You have only to read history — in particular, the history of nazi Germany — to recognize the gradual slide into total fascism, and eventually, madness, that was enacted and legitimized in the laws of the state. It is overwhelming — and, yes, can lead to despair. The antidote for me is social action. But I have to focus — trying to feel or comprehend or deal with everything that is happening leaves you on the defensive, and always running.

    Liked by 1 person

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