Meditating with Howard Thurman

Rebecca Waugh

Our teaching today is a series of readings which draw from the “Meditations of the Heart” by Howard Thurman and our lectionary scriptures. While Howard Thurman was ahead of his time in many ways, Thurman tended to use masculine pronouns as the default in referring to God and people. In our readings today you may hear us adapt the words to have gender neutral pronouns.


 “In the Quiet, One Discovers the Will of God”

Exodus 3:1-14 The Message

3  1-2  Moses was shepherding the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian.

He led the flock to the west end of the wilderness and came to the mountain of God,

Horeb. The angel of GOD appeared to him in flames of fire blazing out of the middle of a

bush. He looked. The bush was blazing away but it didn’t burn up.

3  Moses said, “What’s going on here? I can’t believe this! Amazing! Why doesn’t the

bush burn up?”

4  GOD saw that he had stopped to look. God called to him from out of the bush, “Moses!


He said, “Yes? I’m right here!”

5  God said, “Don’t come any closer. Remove your sandals from your feet. You’re

standing on holy ground.”

6  Then he said, “I am the God of your father: The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the

God of Jacob.”

Moses hid his face, afraid to look at God.

7-8  GOD said, “I’ve taken a good, long look at the affliction of my people in Egypt. I’ve

heard their cries for deliverance from their slave masters; I know all about their pain.

And now I have come down to help them, pry them loose from the grip of Egypt, get

them out of that country and bring them to a good land with wide-open spaces, a land

lush with milk and honey, the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the

Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite.

9-10  “The Israelite cry for help has come to me, and I’ve seen for myself how cruelly

they’re being treated by the Egyptians. It’s time for you to go back: I’m sending you to

Pharaoh to bring my people, the People of Israel, out of Egypt.”

11  Moses answered God, “But why me? What makes you think that I could ever go to

Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

12  “I’ll be with you,” God said. “And this will be the proof that I am the one who sent you:

When you have brought my people out of Egypt, you will worship God right here at this

very mountain.”

13  Then Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the People of Israel and I tell them, ‘The

God of your fathers sent me to you’; and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ What do I tell


14  God said to Moses, “I-AM-WHO-I-AM. Tell the People of Israel, ‘I-AM sent me to you.


 “In the Quiet, One Discovers the Will of God” Medication by Howard Thurman

In the quiet time I may seek to discover the will of God for my own life. This quest must be pursued with great diligence and consecutiveness. It is well to use a part of each period in seeking to find the answer or, more important, clues to the answer, to this deeply felt need. A man wants to know that his life’s purposes and plans are floored by a structure that is more than he is, that is comprehensive, significant and good. When there is the assurance that such a structure has been found, then the sense of being adrift, of living a meaningless life, disappears. The simple assumption is, that God is in each one of us, a part of our very life structure, and we are in Him. We need not concern ourselves overmuch with the many speculative questions that may range through our minds as a result of such assumption. For the assumption is in itself something more; it is an insistent fact, a category which is the rock upon which we stand. It is its own evidence. Very important indeed is it to be aware of the direction which begins to take shape within us as we seek to know the Will with all our hearts. 

Often, the will of God becomes apparent in the central concern of our spirits, which leads us to act or function in accordance with its urgency. Or it may become clear to us only after we have exhausted all our plans and schemes for doing certain things or achieving certain results with our lives. Sometimes a man goes along very sure of his direction and then, under the scrutiny of a deadly serious searching in the experience of prayer, finds that all along he has been mistaken. Often, only one step at the time becomes clear, while for some others, in a flash of insight, the total meaning of their lives is made clear.  God is a part of the very content of one’s own life. Sometimes, His will is seen in simple earnestness and intense desire.  Sometimes the quieting of one’s spirit in prayer exposes the area of sensitiveness to God’s spirit which is submerged by much traffic. Sometimes, there is the marshaling of one’s ideas, plans and purposes in accordance with the sense of direction which looms larger and larger as the must for one’s life. Always there is the checking and rechecking, testing and retesting, of one’s life in the light of what seems more and more the right course, the right way for one’s life. At length one’s entire life— no particular aspect of it but one’s entire life— a becomes pervaded with a quality which is the divine quality, an accent which is the divine accent.


Before we pause for a moment, I offer you a familiar quote from Howard Thurman:  

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs.  Ask yourself what will make you come alive, and then go do that.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive …”


Pause for Silent Reflection


“The Pressure of Crisis”

Matthew 16:21-28 The Message

21-22  Then Jesus made it clear to his disciples that it was now necessary for him to go to

Jerusalem, submit to an ordeal of suffering at the hands of the religious leaders, be

killed, and then on the third day be raised up alive. Peter took him in hand, protesting,

“Impossible, Master! That can never be!”

23  But Jesus didn’t swerve. “Peter, get out of my way. Satan, get lost. You have no idea

how God works.”

24-26  Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has

to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it.

Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my

way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want

but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?

27-28  “Don’t be in such a hurry to go into business for yourself. Before you know it the Son

of Man will arrive with all the splendor of his Father, accompanied by an army of angels.

You’ll get everything you have coming to you, a personal gift. This isn’t pie in the sky by

and by. Some of you standing here are going to see it take place, see the Son of Man in

kingdom glory.”


“The Pressure of Crisis” Meditation by Howard Thurman

WHEN Lloyd George, the British statesman, was a boy, one of his family responsibilities was to collect firewood for warmth and for cooking. He discovered early that always after a very terrific storm, with high winds and driving rain, he had very little difficulty in finding as much, and more, wood than he needed at the time. When the days were beautiful, sunny and the skies untroubled, firewood was at a premium. Despite the fact that the sunny days were happy ones for him, providing him with long hours to fill his heart with delight, nevertheless, in terms of other needs which were his specific responsibilities, they were his most difficult times. Many years after, he realized what had been happening. During the times of heavy rains and driving winds, many of the dead limbs were broken off and many rotten trees were toppled over. The living things were separated from the dead things. But when the sun was shining and the weather was clear and beautiful, the dead and the not dead were undistinguishable. The experience of Lloyd George is common to us all. When all is well with our world, there is often no necessity to separate the “dead” from the “not dead” in our lives. Under the pressure of crisis when we need all available vitality, we are apt to discover that much in us is of no account, valueless. When our tree is rocked by mighty winds, all the limbs that do not have free and easy access to what sustains the trunk are torn away; there is nothing to hold them fast. It is good to know what there is in us that is strong and solidly rooted. It is good to have the assurance that can only come from having ridden the storm and remained intact. Far beside the point is the why of the storm. Beside the point, too, may be the interpretation of the storm that makes of it an active agent of redemption. Given the storm, it is wisdom to know that when it

comes, the things that are firmly held by the vitality of the life are apt to remain, chastened but confirmed; while the things that are dead, sterile or lifeless are apt to be torn away. The wheat and tares grow up together but when the time of harvest comes, only wheat is revealed as wheat—and tares remain what they have been all along, tares.


Pause for Silent Reflection


 “Indebted to a Vast Host”

Romans 12:90-21 the Message

9-10  Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on

for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

11-13  Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master,

cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians;

be inventive in hospitality.


14-16  Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends

when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be

stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.

17-19  Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with

everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says

God. “I’ll take care of it.”

20-21  Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch,

or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t

let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.


 “Indebted to a Vast Host” Meditation by Howard Thurman

He was a very ordinary-looking man walking along the sidewalk. It was at the close of day but darkness had not yet begun to spread its mantle everywhere. About three feet from the curbstone, a group of birds was pecking away at a small opening in the side of a pink paper bag. They were quarreling as they pecked because there must have been many suggestions being offered as to the best way to get to the crumbs that were hidden there. The man walked over to the spot; the birds took rapid flight, settling at a respectful distance in the grass, watching. With his foot he turned the bag over, examined it with some care, then reached down and emptied the bag and its contents of bread crumbs. When he had done this, he resumed his walk. As soon as he disappeared, the birds returned to find that a miracle had taken place. Instead of a bag full of hidden crumbs, only a glimpse of which they had seen, there was before them now a full abundance for satisfying their need. The man had gone on his way without even a backward glance. Of course he could have walked away casting his glances back to feast his eyes on the results of his effort. Or he could have withdrawn far enough so as not to disturb the birds, and watched them eat while he congratulated himself because he was kind to birds and extremely sensitive to their needs. But he did none of these things. He went on his way without even a backward glance. Any careful scrutiny of one’s own life will reveal the fact that we have been in the predicament of the birds again and again. The thing one needed was somewhat in evidence but out of reach. With all of one’s resources, one worked away at the opening, trying first one attack and then another; then some stranger, some unknown writer, some passing comment from another, did the needful thing. We are all of us indebted to a vast host of anonymous persons without whom some necessity would not have been available, some good which came to us, we would have missed. It is not too farfetched to say that living is itself an act of interdependence. However strong we may be or think we are, we are constantly leaning on others.  However self-sufficient we are, our strength is always being supplied by others unknown to us whose paths led them down our street or by our house at the moment that we needed the light they could give.  We are all of us the birds and we are all of us the man.  It is the way of life; it is one of the means by which God activates Himself in the texture of human life and human experience.


Pause for Silent Reflection


 “I Will Sing a New Song”

Psalm 98 the Message

98 Sing to GOD a brand-new song.

He’s made a world of wonders!

He rolled up his sleeves,

He set things right.

2  GOD made history with salvation,

He showed the world what he could do.

3  He remembered to love us, a bonus

To his dear family, Israel—indefatigable love.

The whole earth comes to attention.

Look—God’s work of salvation!

4  Shout your praises to GOD, everybody!

Let loose and sing! Strike up the band!

5  Round up an orchestra to play for GOD,

Add on a hundred-voice choir.

6  Feature trumpets and big trombones,

Fill the air with praises to King GOD.

7  Let the sea and its fish give a round of applause,

With everything living on earth joining in.

8  Let ocean breakers call out, “Encore!”

And mountains harmonize the finale—

9  A tribute to GOD when he comes,

When he comes to set the earth right.

He’ll straighten out the whole world,

He’ll put the world right, and everyone in it.


“I Will Sing a New Song” Meditation by Howard Thurman

The old song of my spirit has wearied itself out. It has long ago been learned by heart so that now it repeats itself over and over, bringing no added joy to my days or lift to my spirit. It is a good song, measured to a rhythm to which I am bound by ties of habit and timidity of mind. The words belong to old experiences which once sprang fresh as water from a mountain crevice fed by melting snows. But my life has passed beyond to other levels where the old song is meaningless. I demand of the old song that it meet the need of present urgencies. Also, I know that the work of the old song, perfect in its place, is not for the new demand! I will sing a new song. As difficult as it is, I must learn the new song that is capable of meeting the new need. I must fashion new words born of all the new growth of my life, my mind and my spirit. I must prepare for new

melodies that have never been mine before, that all that is within me may lift my voice unto God. How I love the old familiarity of the wearied melody—how I shrink from the harsh discords of the new untried harmonies. Teach me, my Father, that I might learn with the abandonment and enthusiasm of Jesus, the fresh and new accent, the untried melody, to meet the need of the untried morrow.  Thus, I may rejoice with each new day and delight my spirit in each fresh unfolding.  I will sing, this day, a new song until Thee, O God.


Pause for Silent Reflection


 “The Threads in My Hand”

 “The Threads in My Hand” Meditation by Howard Thurman

Only one end of the threads, I hold in my hand. 

The threads go many ways, linking my life with other lives.  

One thread comes from a life that is sick; it is taut with anguish 

And always there is the lurking fear that the life will snap. 

I hold it tenderly. I must not let it go . . .

One thread comes from a high-flying kite; It quivers with the mighty current of fierce and holy dreaming 

Invading the common day with far-off places and visions bright . . .

One thread comes from the failing hands of an old, old friend. 

Hardly aware am I of the moment when the tight line slackened and there was nothing at all—nothing . . . 

One thread is but a tangled mass that won’t come right; 

Mistakes, false starts, lost battles, angry words—a tangled mass; I have tried so hard, but it won’t come right . . . 

One thread is a strange thread—it is my steadying thread; 

When I am lost, I pull it hard and find my way.  

When I am saddened, I tighten my grip and gladness glides along its quivering path; 

When the waste places of my spirit appear in arid confusion, the thread becomes a channel of newness of life.  

One thread is a strange thread – it is my steadying thread. 
God’s hand holds the other end.