Howard Thurman 1899 - 1981
Howard Thurman 1899 – 1981
It may seem strange to read a blog in the Celtic Way series and find Howard Thurman as our subject. How does that work? What! You never saw Howard playing the bagpipes in the St. Patrick’s Day parade? No…you did not. However, after reading some of his stuff and watching a couple of videos about him I got to thinking about how much we have in common with so many people who would never consider themselves “Celtic”. What DOES it mean to follow Jesus as Celtic Christians today?” This is a question I hope we wrestle with over and over again. When we do it will expand the horizons of our identity, our “family”, and our mission in this life.
Our calling at Celtic Way is to engage in many of the Celtic Christian teachings and find authentic ways in which to express them. For example: We believe that God reveals God’s self through scripture and nature. We hold that all people are created in the image of God and have free will. We believe in practicing radical hospitality and welcome all people on the journey with us. As our ancient Celtic sisters and brothers, we travel a path which combines the basic components of the contemplative and mystical streams. Then we join our contemplative posture with a prophetic stance which seeks justice and peace for all people. We, as Jesus often did, identify with those on the margins, especially the poor. We practice a spirituality which moves us into community and soul friending.
Howard Thurman practiced all these things as well.
He wouldn’t have called himself a Celt. He did have quite a large oak tree in his backyard that he deemed his best friend. He would sit on the soft grass and lean up against that towering oak and share his sorrows and his joys. He knew that he was always understood; that he had been befriended. Howard heard the voice of God through other people and believed that the best thing one could do in this world was not to ask, “What does the world need today, but rather we are to ask ourselves what is it that makes us come alive and then go do that! For that is what the world needs from us today – for us to come alive. He believed in the goodness and the potential of humanity. He also was keenly aware of the power of both individual and corporate sin. This life was a challenge for him and we hold the same.
Belonging to the stream of Celtic Christianity is always a reminder to me that though we are a distinct and important stream, we are not the entire river. We share THE COMMON SOURCE of life that waters all who long to drink. When I come across a Howard and Sue Bailey (his wife) Thurman, Saints Clare and Francis, Mother Teresa, or Richard Rohr I know they do not think of themselves as Celts. But it helps me to hold our values in concert with others and experience that we are all in this great mystery together as people of God and people of the earth.
If you'd like to experience more of this insightful man check out these two PBS videos (1) The Legacy of Howard Thurman: Mystic and Theologian
(2) Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story
If you would be interested in his written work: