Editor's note:

Part of our man­date at Ren­o­varé is to look at the press­ing issues of our time through a spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion lens. So we ask ques­tions like: What is the con­nec­tion between spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion and jus­tice? How are we mal­formed when we par­tic­i­pate in injus­tice, or when we don’t act for jus­tice? What kind of for­ma­tion, prac­tices, and spir­i­tu­al resources are nec­es­sary to allow us to act for jus­tice in a sus­tained, healthy way, with­out becom­ing con­sumed by bit­ter­ness or despair?

Howard Thur­man, the 20th-cen­tu­ry the­olo­gian, teacher, and mys­tic, probed these very ques­tions with sin­gu­lar insight. He served as a pas­tor and spir­i­tu­al advi­sor for many key civ­il rights activists (includ­ing Mar­tin Luther King, Jr.). His 1949 book Jesus and the Dis­in­her­it­ed is a Ren­o­varé Book Club selec­tion, and its rel­e­vance to the present day is breath-tak­ing.

This excerpt from anoth­er of Thur­man’s books, Med­i­ta­tions of the Heart, pro­vides a great exam­ple of his prophet­ic abil­i­ty to com­bine unflinch­ing real­ism, deep com­pas­sion, and stub­born hope.

—Carolyn Arends
Director of Education, Renovaré

Life Goes On”

Dur­ing these tur­bu­lent times we must remind our­selves repeat­ed­ly that life goes on.

This we are apt to forget.

The wis­dom of life tran­scends our wisdoms;

the pur­pose of life out­lasts our purposes;

the process of life cush­ions our processes.

The mass attack of dis­il­lu­sion and despair,

dis­tilled out of the col­lapse of hope,

has so invad­ed our thoughts that what we know to be true and valid seems unre­al and ephemeral.

There seems to be lit­tle ener­gy left for aught but futility.

This is the great deception.

By it whole peo­ples have gone down to oblivion 

with­out the will to affirm the great and per­ma­nent strength of the clean and the commonplace.

Let us not be deceived.

It is just as impor­tant as ever to attend to the lit­tle graces

by which the dig­ni­ty of our lives is main­tained and sustained.

Birds still sing;

the stars con­tin­ue to cast their gen­tle gleam over the des­o­la­tion of the battlefields,

and the heart is still inspired by the kind word and the gra­cious deed.

There is no need to fear evil.

There is every need to under­stand what it does,

how it oper­ates in the world,

what it draws upon to sus­tain itself.

We must not shrink from the knowl­edge of the evil­ness of evil.

Over and over we must know that the real tar­get of evil is not destruc­tion of the body,

the reduc­tion to rub­ble of cities;

the real tar­get of evil is to cor­rupt the spir­it of man 

and to give his soul the con­ta­gion of inner disintegration.

When this happens,

there is noth­ing left,

the very citadel of man is cap­tured and laid waste.

There­fore the evil in the world around us must not be allowed to move from with­out to within.

This would be to be over­come by evil.

To drink in the beau­ty that is with­in reach,

to clothe one’s life with sim­ple deeds of kindness,

to keep alive a sen­si­tive­ness to the move­ment of the spir­it of God

in the quiet­ness of the human heart and in the work­ings of the human mind—

this is as always the ulti­mate answer to the great deception.

Excerpt­ed from Med­i­ta­tions of the Heart by Howard Thur­man, pub­lished by Bea­con Press.

Originally published January 1953

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