Introductory 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.

Text First Published January 1953