One Must Consider…
Howard Washington Thurman was a wonderful man and human being. A sentient being acutely aware of the worldly world wherein he lived. Esotericist, Pyotr Demianovich Ouspenskii, is noted for having said, “Life is a pain factory.” In a world burdened with pain, Thurman found influence. As a theologian, philosopher, educator and civil rights leader, his acquaintance with the pain life brings to bear on the human experience was certainly empirical. As a black man, this empiricism can be characterized as acute.
As with many African Americans of his generation, and the continuing decades of racism and social injustice, Thurman worked diligently to make the world a better place. One must consider the spirituality the African slave took from the bondage of plantations and agricultural fields to the halls of academia; formation of religious institutions and philosophical thought found its way into the DNA of Thurman. For what good is a lamplight in a world captivated by elements of darkness, where there is very little oil to power the lumens needed to manifest light in that darkness? It is safe to say, as a religious minister, Thurman was a light to many feet and visibility to the darkened path of people traveling through the pains of life, and the trepidations of their world that was his world.
An educated man. As a descendant of those who preceded him, to whom was designated 3/5th of a man, considered ignorant and savage, he, like his predecessors, recognized the redeeming quality of education. What comes to mind is a verse from the poem Parentage, written by Oregon’s greatest poet and poet laureate, William Stafford, “I want to be as dumb as the wise are wrong.” Let it be understood, this essayist suggests Thurman understood most importantly the necessity of education in order to be effectual in a life and world filled with pain. His life, work, and legacy is a testament to this attribution.
A prolific writer, he subscribed not only to the oral tradition illuminated by the sages of his day but also the writing traditions. A careful search will revel a plethora of his writings which set forth his screeds, papers and enumerations regarding religious thought and social justice.
Thurman did not limit himself to exclusionary thinking. His thoughts included diverse ideas on racial reconciliation, Jewish relations, to mysticism. This human being was every bit a man who desired to see humanity living in harmony. Without a doubt Thurman would be a staunch champion of such ideals today.
Much more can be stated about Howard Washington Thurman. I would suggest anyone having read this brief essay take to heart the the admonition of author George R.R. Martin, "A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies... The man who never reads lives only one." It would be worth the time to give Howard Washington Thurman’s life and legacy a read.
The Franciscan Spiritual Center
January 28, 2020