When the World is Shaking, Grab Howard Thurman’s The Search for Common Ground

Howard Thurman’s The Search for Common Ground probes the beginning of the never- ending, that is the ground of our communal being. When the world is shaking and you fear you might lose your grip, grab a hold of this book.

He asserts that there is a place where we all belong, where every living thing, animal, human being, and plant, is connected and thereby related.[1]  Our kinship is a part of the natural order: “Any part of nature—say, a rock, a tree or a man—is an expression of order.  The relation between a rock, a tree and a man, is also an expression of order.”

Without a “king of the hill,” nothing and no one is to be dominated. Without a hierarchy, the playing field is level. 

For Thurman, even chaos and order go hand in hand.[2]  There is no dualism.

Even if the stuff of myth or only a utopian ideal, the craving, a “built- in urge” for community is real, natural, innate and evidence of a beginning before our beginning.

“This was given by the Creator as the already actualized potential, as if the Creator wanted man [sic] to know what his true intent was in bring life into being, and this experience of true intent was to serve as a constant tutor, reminding man in the midst of all of his divisions, chaos, disorder, and broken harmony that he was made in and for harmony.  Thus, man would never accept the absence of community as his destiny,” Thurman writes.

This stride toward unity, wholeness, common ground is movement toward the original setting in paradise.[3]  The desire for community is a return to the original setting of belonging and all- togetherness with all of creation: “Deep within himself he knows that if he settles for anything less than this, he denies the profound intent of his own spirit, which is one with the intent of the Creator.”

For me, what is most striking is his entry point: “I have always wanted to be me without making it difficult for you to be you.” He will not come into being at the expense of assassinating or alienating the personhood of another human being.  It will not get in the way of her and his becoming their true self though this is the American way.

So committed to community and by this, Thurman means wholeness, that he ensures that his body is not identified as a barrier. His body will not behave as a guard that prevents persons from entering into their authentic self. It starts with him.

This sense of community and oneness with all that is and was and will be is remarkable as Thurman extends his hands to receive all species from every kingdom.[4]  Thurman connects me not only to the earth but to the entire universe. More so, he offers words that enlarge my sense of self by adding the universe: “… we are not only living in the universe, but the universe is living in us.”[5] 

My sense of self and my very presence have been enlarged. I am even bigger and my community much larger than I had realized or even ventured to consider. 

The breadth and depth of me is expanded. I am full of constellations and planets and cosmic ways. 

I am not worlds apart from anyone, but all the worlds are housed in me.  The stars are not above me but within me.  I shine from the inside out. 

My awareness of the expansiveness and the number of ties I now have considering this understanding offers numerous opportunities to connect and to be in fellowship.  I am in community with the universe.   

And it feels right.  Thurman says it is quite natural.

In fact, it is the way that life is supposed to be, and he reminds me that I know this to be true.  There is nothing alien about my body or yours. We are at home in it and so is the universe.[6]

[1] Thurman describes man as “a child of nature and as a kinsman of all living things” (29).  And not only that but God was somehow a part of creation.  Thurman writes, “… I thought they were peepholes through which God looked down upon the world” (30).

Howard Thurman, The Search for Common Ground, (Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 1986).

[2] When observing Rodin’s “Hand of God” in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Thurman remarked, “… the giant hand, and always the mighty thumb, yet deep in the palm of the hand the chaotic stuff of life.  In fact, the hand itself seemed to emerge out of a kind of chaotic conglomerate” (10).

[3] “Utopias are rooted in the very structure of man’s conscious life.  There is a spirit that hovers over all generations of man that rejects the contradictions of his private and social life as being ultimate or final.  It refuses to accept the idea that life as it is being lived is meaningless” (44).

[4] “There seems to be a difference between confirming the unity of life among one’s own kind and confirming the unity of life across kingdoms or species” (67).

[5] Ibid 32.

[6] “… a man’s [sic] journey into life may be characterized as a quest for community within himself” (80).

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Seeking to lead words and people to their highest and most authentic expression, I am the principal architect of a race/less world.

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