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Inner Authority

Today’s post is by Lerita Coleman Brown

For Howard Thurman an important principle linking contemplation to social activism was the notion of Inner Authority. …Both Jesus and Thurman believed that no matter how repressive external circumstances become, as children of God, we are each created with this inner sanctuary. Thus, being aware of one’s inner authority may enable a person to participate in a social movement or to move away from an abusive relationship whether it be marital, parental, sexual, or occupational, or accept a call for a vocation or make a decision unpopular with cultural or family dictates. Utilizing inner authority is just another manifestation of living from a sense of authentic Self; the one God created and a Self deeply embedded in the Presence. Mastery of this principle is vital for people who suffer any form of discrimination, particularly individuals of African descent throughout the African Diaspora. …By being rooted in and living from the Spirit of God, whether that Presence is within us or in nature, one can develop the “authority” to move against oppressive forces in one’s life. He portrays it best in this short excerpt from his book, Meditations of the Heart:

The Inward Sea

There is in every person an inward sea, and in that

sea there is an island and on that island there is an

altar and standing guard before that altar is the “angel

with the flaming sword.”  Nothing can get by that

angel to be placed upon that altar unless it has the

mark of your inner authority.  Nothing passes “the

angel with the flaming sword” to be placed upon your

altar unless it be a part of “the fluid area of your consent.”

This is your crucial link with the Eternal.

In other ways Howard Thurman used contemplative practices in social activism. Luther Smith writes in Howard Thurman: Mystic as Prophet: Dr. Thurman’s “primary identity was as a mystic. He was a mystic who recognized the necessity of social activism for enabling and responding to religious experience. In Thurman’s view, the mystic’s motivation for social engagement is not simply to improve the lot of the marginalized or disenfranchised, not only to correct injustice or remove harm, but to restore communion with the Divine. He recognized the damaging effect of injustice on both victim and perpetrator, sufferer and offender; his central premise was the search for authentic community, the common ground among people at the root of their humanness and their spiritual nature. He teaches reverence for every individual: to ‘meet people where they are, but deal with them as if they were where they ought to be,’ according to their inherent worth as children of God. For Thurman the inward journey of personal transformation and the outward journey of social transformation could not be separated. Thurman wanted us to know each other at our deepest core—to experience each other beyond any physical appearances, gender or social status differences, religious, faith or spiritual practices. He wanted to move us toward seeing the divine in every person we meet.”


This selection is excerpted from a presentation Lerita gives in Shalem’s Howard Thurman Retreat Day. This one day online retreat is available throughout February and is a wonderful way to engage with the spiritual depths of this mentor of Martin Luther King Jr. during Black History Month.

Click here to register for your retreat day.
You’ll have immediate access to the material upon registration.

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