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Mystics and Prophets – A Reflection

July 13, 2020

Two mentors of mine are Howard Thurman and Thomas Merton. Their reflections on life and peace speak to my heart and soul. I “met” Thurman during my time at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in the mid 80’s. I “met” Merton decades later during a lifelong learning course at Columbia Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

I have often wondered what a conversation with these two mystics and prophets would have been like. They never met but many believe that Merton was aware of Thurman’s writings in the 1960’s. They were contemplatives called to action by the Spirit. They also informed so many in the Civil Rights and Peace Movement.

I believe that we can learn so much from both of them. William Apel wrote the following about them in an article (Mystic as Prophet: The Deep Freedom of Thomas Merton and Howard Thurman) he wrote for “The Merton Annual” in 2003.

Perhaps the rarest of all human beings is the mystic as prophet. There are few who have successfully combined a life of contemplation with a prophetic call to social justice. Howard Thurman (1900-81) and Thomas Merton (1915-68) are two such individuals. As beacons of light in a world clouded by violence, war and racial bigotry, this African-American minister, and this Trappist monk, have illumined the way for many.
These two spiritual masters served both as mystics and prophets in their time and place. (p. 172)

For too many the call of the contemplative life is a call to escape from the world. Merton tried to run from the world but the Spirit was persistent in calling him to be a prophet as well as a contemplative. They both continue to teach me a lot about the balance between contemplation and action.

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