Cosmic Intimacy | March 20, 2022 Dr. Dorsey Blake
There is a sense of reverence that visits and lingers with me when I read about Howard Thurman and his cosmic connections as a child. I am in awe as he shares his embracing of the storms with the quiet lulls in their presence. I am led to another plane of consciousness and appreciation of relationships when he talks about being able to hear the night think and feel the night feel. I am held and heard when he describes the oak tree therapist in his back yard. There is no doubt of his mystical union with life. What Presence I feel vicariously! Dr. Howard Thurman writes with such power and sensitivity that his personal experiences with nature sometimes appear to be the definitive experiences.
Our own experiences seem to pale in comparison. That is the problem, “comparison.” Our own experiences are our own experiences. To compare robs, belittles their legitimacy as angels of our own centering and renewal. It is incumbent upon us to retrieve closeted experiences with “nature” that have validated that we are – each of us – personalized expressions of something vaster than we are and intimate with and within us.
I remember the elm and maple trees in Liberty, Missouri, where they were major players in rooting my childhood. Sharing “starring roles” were the night lights that you felt you could reach up and touch. “There’s the North Star!” Stationary it appeared but giving direction, pointing forward. “Is that the big Dipper, the belt of Orion – not, unless the belt has come loose.”
There was the magic of the solitary star.
Twinkle twinkle little star. How I wonder what you are. Up above the world so high. Like a diamond in the sky. Twinkle twinkle little star. How I wonder what you are.
How I wonder what you are in relationship to me and the night sky. I recall the allurement of the moon and the steadiness of the sun warming and lighting our days. Pre-tornado weather with its darkness was an omen of something dramatic and unsettling to come. And, oh, how I loved the wind, with its mystery, showing up when ready and leaving on its own terms!
Dr. Howard Thurman shares another experience that happened when he was a boy. His mother awakened him to see Halley’s Comet, that awesome lighted visitor that appears every seventy-five years or so. It was an awesome sight, transfixing the boy. So majestic was it that young Howard queried about what would happen if it fell to earth. His mother with her deep, constant, and all abiding trust answered that nothing would happen to them because God would take care of them. A quiet reassurance moved into his life that he said never vacated him. An intimacy stirred in him, a gift from the creator and controller of the comet. The anxiety evaporated leaving a calming stillness of spirit.
But before she uttered the reassuring words: “Nothing will happen to us, Howard. God will take care of us,” Thurman said that he felt the gentle pressure of her fingers on his shoulders. As he looked into her face, he saw what he had seen on another occasion, when without knocking he had rushed into her room and found her in prayer.
I want us to think about the importance of the touch of another, an element in the cosmic “we.” That touch is a prayer.
Thurman says that prayer is the movement of the heart toward God: “a movement that in a sense is within God – God in the heart sharing its life with God the Creator of all Life.” The hunger of the heart in prayer “is God, calling to God.”
Dr. Thurman reads Donald C. Babcock’s great poem, The Little Duck, as a meditation leading into his remarkable sermon: Growing in Favor with God.
Now we are ready to look at something pretty special. It is a duck riding the ocean a hundred feet beyond the surf. No, it isn’t a gull. A gull always has a raucous touch about him. This is some sort of duck, and he cuddles in the swells. He isn’t cold, and he is thinking things over. There is a great heaving in the Atlantic, And he is a part of it. He looks a little like a mandarin, Or the Lord Buddha meditating under the Bo tree But he has hardly enough above the eyes to be a philosopher. He has poise, however, which is what philosophers must have. He can rest while the Atlantic heaves, because he rests in the Atlantic. Probably he doesn’t know how large the ocean is. And neither do you. But he realizes it. And what does he do, I ask you. He sits down in it. He reposes in the immediate as if it were infinity – which it is. That is religion, and the duck has it. He has made himself a part of the boundless, by easing himself into it just where it touches him. I like the little duck. He doesn’t know much. But he has religion.
While the poem is an extraordinary reminder of relationships in creation, the bound and the boundless, the particular and universal, the finite and the infinite, it is also a wonderful meditative piece. Thurman creatively connects it with our responsibility to shoulder the types of commitment through human agency that would demand and receive cosmic resources sufficient for our needs and the needs of those of which we are a part. He asserts that God is in each one of us, that God is in everything. Spiritual growth entails disciplining ourselves in ways that cultivate more and more a response to the ultimate demands that others make upon us, that life makes upon us.
For Thurman, God is not only the creator of individual life but the Creator of life itself. Spiritual growth is the process by which we move more and more into God. The end is not so much to realize that God is in us; but that we come fully into God.
He shares the story of his experience at the train station on his way to Jacksonville, Florida, to attend high school, one of only three high schools in Florida that Black students could attend at that time. After arriving at the station, he attempted to check his trunk, only to learn that there a rule that the ticket had to be attached to the handles of the trunk. His trunk did not have handles, only a rope. He was instructed to send it via Railway Express. However, he did not have money enough to send the trunk by Railway Express. Embarrassed because he would have to return home defeated, depressed because his hope for an expansion of his education had died, he set on the steps of the railroad station and cried. A stranger, a Black working-class man – based on his clothing—, inquired why the boy was crying. When told, he paid for the trunk to be sent via Railway Express and disappeared down the railroad tracks.
Because of the actions of this stranger, yet cosmic kin, Thurman was able to attend the high school and beyond. Without the kindness of this stranger who knows what would have been the fate of Howard Thurman. As professor and minister, Dr. Thurman always kept a picture of a ragged boy above his desk to remind him of the need to address the dire circumstances of many children. Every year he made a financial contribution to assist young people.
This is a primary example of the cosmic “we”, the cosmic web, the touch of the other.
The song that has become the unofficial anthem of Black America, Lift Every Voice and Sing, makes the cosmic connection plain.
Lift every voice and sing Till earth and Heaven ring Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; Let our rejoicing rise, High as the list'ning skies, let it resound loud as the Rolling Sea.
It was the “we” that energized the Civil Rights Movement. The song that became the unofficial anthem of the movement clearly accentuates this idea. We shall overcome. We’ll walk hand in hand. We shall live in peace. We shall all be free. We are not afraid. So often, when we locked arms, made a circle – defying patriarchy, no head, all as one--, there came into our lives inexplicable energy, determination, power, and liberation. Yes, slavery chains done broke at last. ‘Gonna praise God ‘til I die.