Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Howard Thurman Discerned the Deep Waters of the Human Heart

Munson Park, Monroe

In the early 1980s my devotional guide was A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants. It was there that I found Howard Thurman. Already greatly influenced by Thomas Merton, Thurman struck me as the black Merton. Now I could just as easily call Merton the white Thurman. 

Thurman must have loved one of my favorite spiritual formation verses, Proverbs 20:5 - The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out. Merton probed the depths of these waters. So did Thurman. Listen to this beautiful description by Catherine Tumber and Walter Fluker.

"Somehow, [Thurman] was able to dig deep into the inner recesses of one's being, in the places which for others seemed unreachable, and to find the hidden treasures of the soul - the lost dreams wandering about as forsaken ghosts in the wastelands of the heart, the shattered hopes that had ricocheted off the hard realities of and being in the world, the flickering visions of yesteryear whose white heat had once irradiated glowing ideals and made living an adventure - this, too, is the vibrant legacy he bequeaths to us." (Tumer and Fluker, eds; A Strange Freedom: The Best of Howard Thurman on Religious Experience and Public Life; p. 13)

Thurman was the "pastoral leader of the Civil Rights movement." (Ib.) He provided spiritual wisdom and counsel for Martin Luther King, Jr., Vernon Johns, James Farmer, Whitney Young, Vernon Jordan, Jesse Jackson, Otis Moss, and many others. Thurman's wife Sue Bailey Thurman said of her husband, "he helped to move the stumps out of the way for so many people." (Ib.)