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

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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