top of page
  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Night and the Heart of Darkness | August 13, 2023 Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake

Please make a note that the Annual Howard Thurman Convocation is scheduled for October 15 (the 3rd Sunday), at 3:00 PM. The focus will be celebrating the landmarking of our building at 2041 Larkin as a Historical Landmark. More information will be sent closer to the event.


The historical significance of the building has been enhanced by the history and legacy of the powerful ministries of Dr. Howard Thurman, Dr. Alfred Fisk, and Mrs. Susan Bailey Thurman, members and friends throughout the years who have consecrated this structure as a sacred site in a unique fashion.


Razor wire covers the horizon

I can see the wire cutters

To find a way through

A journey said to be impossible

I would need to bleed.

To get to the other side


Cut the wire

Hold open the small hole

To help others pass without incident

To collectively remove the horizon

Returning a landscape

Removing artificial barriers

To its natural wonder

And finding freedom.




Dr. Howard Thurman had the phenomenal ability to sense that there was something in the natural world and the human world that transcended the seeing of the physical eye. He rested in a timelessness to time, and a beyond dimension critical for relaxing in and accepting the ministry of the now, the present. He forged a deep trust with the creatures and creations of life that fear of life and its potential devastation was not an option.


I don’t want to wear out the passage, but I keep turning to a description of his relationship with the natural world as kin.


Nightfall was meaningful to my childhood, for the night was more than a companion. It was a presence, an articulate climate. There was something about the night that seemed to cover my spirit like a gentle blanket. …The night had its own language. Sometimes, the night seemed to have movement in it, as if it were a great ocean wave. Other times, it was deathly still, no rhythm, no movement. At such times I could hear the night think and feel the night feel. This comforted me and I found myself wishing that night would hurry and come, for under its cover, my mind would roam. I felt embraced, enveloped, held secure. In some fantastic way, the night belonged to me.


How does one learn the language of the night unless one moves inside the blanketing of night, inside the outwardness of night to its heart, and beat as one with that heart? How is one tutored by the night so intimately and profoundly that Thurman could hear the night think and feel the night feel, possessing the night as sacred, a living treasure, a lover perhaps?


Again, he writes,


As a child I was accustomed to spending many hours alone in my rowboat, fishing along the river, when there was no sound save the lapping of the waves against the boat. There were times when it seemed as if the earth and the river and the sky and I were one beat of the same pulse. It was a time of watching and waiting for what I did not know—yet I always knew. There would come a moment when beyond the single pulse beat there was a sense of Presence which seemed always to speak to me. My response to the sense of Presence always had the quality of personal communion. There was no voice. There was no image. There was no vision. There was God.


I love the mystery of watching and waiting for the mysterious presence to appear and tend to him in personal communion.


I am also curious regarding how such a developed, sensitive, free, cosmic soul dealt with the socially imposed contradictions, with the need to fit into structures, ideologies, expectations, molding, and mainstreaming created by others that are omnipresent, limiting, and seductive.


How does this Tao consciousness continue in a society that is extractive, debilitating, scheming, and does not honor the majesty of each person born into it? Glimpse the possibilities and live into the playfulness of life, not constrained by imposed social containers or constrainers sifting out our lives. Dream!


Thurman wrote: In some fantastic way, the night belonged to me. However, it belonged not just to him. It belonged to all that had become before him, since the Beginning. It still belongs to us now, not as a possession but as a gift, a renewing time, a time of relaxed consciousness that roams the universe, stretching, remembering, and dreaming. It is in relationship with the stars and moon, with the sky and landscape, with all creeping, crawling, and swimming things. It complements the day, yin and yang. Yes, it belonged to Thurman because it and he belonged to life, ever free, and inexhaustible.


It was this assurance that Thurman carried with him and therefore he could not be exhausted by the machinations of the social order or exasperated by individuals he encountered regardless of how abusive or contrary they were. A twinkling wonderment was his indestructible countenance and companion.


Each of us has the possibility of being an engaging surprise to the other if we tarry with the other long enough. For we find that there is an underlying reality where we claim connection and kinship with the other.


The oneness of the Tao is the underlying level of reality where we connect as one. This connection is something you can feel in a one-on-one encounter. When someone is in tune with you, with a spiritual energy similar to your own. It is easy for both of you to go beyond the surface level and touch the Tao together. — Derek Lin


In the presence of Dr. Thurman, I was always lifted, empowered by his obvious connection with the universe, with the Holy, with that which undergirds all of the cosmic journey. A connection was made between the two of us and the life that held us together and yet was beyond each of us.


This deeper level of reality is eternal and timeless. This is why time seems to lose its meaning when you get into a really good conversation. The experience can last for hours without you being the least bit aware. When you emerge from it, you are surprised by how much time has elapsed. This is the magic of timeless oneness. It is something extraordinary that transcends everyday reality, and yet it is also the most natural thing for all of us. — Derek Lin


The lesson: take some serious time to converse with someone or something. You may lose your sense of time. That would be a benefit, usurping the controlling nature of time, of the clock. And you may be surprised at the connections that are revealed.


Genesis, the Oakland-based manifestation of the Gamaliel Foundation, has a marvelous technique for building and sustaining relationships with individuals and organizations. Some of you may remember Mary Lim-Lampe. She introduced brilliant young organizer Nicole Sutton at last year’s Howard Thurman Convocation. As lead organizer of Genesis, Mary invited Rev. Dr. Hubert and me to join her in conversation. Our one-on-one, or two-on-one conversation with Rev. Ivery was revelatory. He and I had worked closely in the past with Genesis and a creation of Genesis, the African American Leadership Conference. This time we were held together in amazement. Retired United Methodist Minister, Ivery spoke of a dream project that has claimed his heart and intention, creating intentional community. Wow! That is a focus of my new class, Visions of Tomorrow. By opening ourselves to each other, we found common ground that we never knew existed. Guess what? A Howard Thurman scholar, he is now scheduled to speak in that class.


Dr. Thurman was able to negotiate the vicissitudes of life because he could draw from the deep well of wisdom derived from his relationship with the natural world and those who resourced his journey, such as his grandmother, mother, professors, congregants, and the stranger at the train station. Dr. Ivery has also been able to envision an alternative to the social order imposed upon him. Many of us have done the same. But not all are as fortunate or resourceful or receive a helping hand.


The opening poetry poem is from The Purpose Gap: Empowering Communities of Color to Find Meaning and Thrive.


Razor wire covers the horizon

I can see the wire cutters

To find a way through

A journey said to be impossible

I would need to bleed.

To get to the other side


Cut the wire

Hold open the small hole

To help others pass without incident

To collectively remove the horizon

Returning a landscape

Removing artificial barriers

To its natural wonder

And finding freedom.


The Purpose Gap was written by the newly appointed Dean of Auburn Seminary and Co-Dean of the Children’s Defense Fund Dale Andrews Freedom Seminary. Prophetically addressing his concern for and commitment to those locked out of the benefits of our society, he delves into the conditions facing so many who cannot even think about visions of tomorrow for it is difficult enough to make it through the day. Before young people can find a firm grounding in their purpose, we first need to close the gap. Like the education, housing, opportunity, wealth gaps, the purpose gap exists where people cannot achieve what they were born to do. It exists when people are not able to fulfill their calling, resulting in lives of meaning and purpose stolen from future generations. The purpose gap exists because of the war on our children’s future.


Like Thurman, the dark night is there. However, this heart of darkness is the heart of empire and extraction. For Reyes, his grandmother was always there. For many, grandmothers are not there, can’t be there, themselves trapped in the maze of metastatic oppression. For Reyes, Ivery, and Thurman, there were some on the other side, having crossed the bridge themselves and leading others to the other side, to the alternative life. “The bridge supplies access to resources and opportunities but does not guarantee them.” There are still systemic forces against the traveler. Some have so internalized their worthlessness that they cannot grasp a way beyond.


What is our role in speaking to their needs? Is there a balm we have or can create to heal their wounded souls? How do we have one-on-ones with them and provide access to a tomorrow and future they cannot envision? Can we plant a seed, an idea? “Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.” – Henry David Thoreau




8 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page