Meditations of the Heart


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Meditations of the Heart is a beautiful collection of meditations and prayers by one of our greatest spiritual leaders. Howard Thurman, the great spiritualist and mystic, was renowned for the quiet beauty of his reflections on humanity and our relationship with God. This collection of fifty-four of his most well-known meditations features his thoughts on prayer, community, and the joys and rituals of life. Within this collection are words that sustain, elevate, and inspire. Thurman addresses those moments of trial and ...

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Jun 26, 2019

Meditations Of Howard Thurman

Howard Thurman (1899 -- 1981) was a mystic, preacher, civil rights leader, and philosopher. I have been learning a great deal from reading works by and about him. From 1944 -- 1952, Thurman served as pastor of the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco, the first ecumenical church in the United States. It welcomed people of all racial, cultural, economic, and religious backgrounds. Thurman published three volumes of short meditations and talks that he delivered during his years at the Fellowship Church, including this second volume "Meditations of the Heart". This is a moving at times difficult collection that shows a deep sincerity in the religious search and in the attempt to know God or the divine.

In a brief Foreword, Thurman writes that "there is no underlying theme" holding the various meditations together. Thurman tried to address his thoughts "to some of the deep and insistent needs of the human spirit, which needs know no age, clime, culture or group. They are needs that are universal and in which all men share. Their purpose is to focus the mind and the heart upon God as the Eternal Source and Goal of life."

The meditations are divided into five groups, titled "The Inward Sea","The Binding Ties", "Life is Alive", "The Moment of Celebration" and "Meditations of the Heart" with each group prefaced by a brief introduction. The meditations discuss solitude and introspection, life with one's fellows, and coming to realize the unity of one's self and all beings with God.

The meditations may be read through, but it is probably more useful to focus on a few of them at a time and to return to the meditations that the reader likes. As Thurman realizes, these meditations tend to be a mixed collection and each reader likely will find some that are particularly worthwhile.

An example of a meditation I liked is found in third section of the book, "Life is Alive" , no. 14 titled "We Are All One". (The meditation titles did not originate with Thurman). This meditation begins with a quote from the Greek philosopher Plotinus, a great influence on Thurman: "If we are in unity with the Spirit, we are in unity with each other, and so we are all one." Thurman finds that Plotinus, and other mystical thinkers, suggest the underlying unity of all life and the identity of the human Spirit with the Godhead. It is tempting for mystics to withdraw from every day life to contemplate God, but Thurman finds this sort of solitary contemplation important but insufficient. Rather, individuals need to live in community with each other and to find God in human fellowship and unity. Thurman writes:

"The pragmatic test of one's unity with the Spirit is found in the unity with one's fellows. We see what this means when we are involved in the experience of a broken relationship. When I have lost harmony with another, my whole life is thrown out of tune. God tends to be remote and far away when a desert and sea appear between me and another.......I cannot be at peace without God, and I cannot be truly aware of God if I am not at peace with my fellows. For the sake of my unity with God, I keep working on my relations with my fellows. This is ever the insistence of all ethical religions."

I learned from this meditation in its reference to Plotinus, in the discussion of the value of contemplation and the inner life, and in the insistence that the inner life needs to be combined with life in community to reach full human growth and understanding. There is much to be learned from these few words. Other readers may learn from other meditations in this collection.

These meditations should be read slowly and repeatedly, if possible, with each reader finding words that he or she finds important. Readers interested in mysticism and its relationship to an active life or in broad questions of spirituality will find much to learn from Thurman.

Robin Friedman

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