With one week till the election, many are tense and concerned about the outcome. So I thought some inspiration might be a balm for our nerves. The Sunday before last, my favorite radio show, On Being, focused on the late Howard Thurman, a minister and prolific author. Martin Luther King Jr., reportedly, always kept three publications close at hand: The Bible, The Constitution, and Thurman’s book, Jesus and the Disinherited.
That inspired me to look up some of his best-known quotes (thanks to GoodReads.com), which I offer here in the hope that they might help pull us through the perilous, nerve-wracking, week ahead.
Whatever may be the tensions and the stresses of a particular day, there is always lurking close at hand the trailing beauty of forgotten joy or unremembered peace. (From “Meditations of the Heart”)
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. (From “The Living Wisdom of Howard Thurman: A Visionary for Our Time”)
There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.
There are two questions that we have to ask ourselves. The first is “Where am I going?” and the second is “Who will go with me?” If you ever get these questions in the wrong order, you are in trouble.
Often, to be free means the ability to deal with the realities of one’s own situation so as not to be overcome by them. (From “For the Inward Journey”)
There must be always remaining in every life, some place for the singing of angels, some place for that which in itself is breathless and beautiful.
If a man knows precisely what he can do to you or what epithet he can hurl against you in order to make you lose your temper, your equilibrium, then he can always keep you under subjection.
He recognized with authentic realism that anyone who permits another to determine the quality of his inner life gives into the hands of the other the keys to his destiny. (From “Jesus and the Disinherited”)
If a person is convinced he is safe only as long as he uses his power to give others a sense of insecurity, then the measure of their security is in his hands. If security or insecurity is at the mercy of a single individual or group, then control of behavior becomes routine. All imperialism functions in this way.
Keep alive the dream; for as long as a person has a dream in their heart, they cannot lose the significance of living. (From “Meditations of the Heart”)
Above and beyond all else it must be borne in mind that hatred tends to dry up the springs of creative thought in the life of the hater, so that their resourcefulness becomes completely focused on the negative aspects of his environment. The urgent needs of the personality for creative expression are starved to death. A person’s horizon may become so completely dominated by the intense character of the hatred that there remains no creative residue in mind and spirit to give to great ideas, to great concepts. (From “Jesus and the Disinherited”)
A strange necessity has been laid upon me to devote my life to the central concern that transcends the walls that divide and would achieve in literal fact what is experienced as literal truth: Human life is one, and all are members of one another. This insight is the hard core of religious experience. (From “The Luminous Darkness”)
It’s a wondrous thing, that a decision to act releases energy in the personality. For days on end a person may drift along without much energy. Having no particular sense of direction and having no will to change. Then, something happens to alter the pattern. It may be something very simple and inconsequential in itself. But it stabs awake, it alarms, it disturbs. In a flash, one gets a vivid picture of oneself, and it passes. The result is decision. Sharp, definitive decision. In the wake of the decision, yes, even as a part of the decision itself, energy is released. The act of decision sweeps all before it, and the life of the individual may be changed forever.
Perhaps the life of a nation will be changed forever as well, if our decision is to vote to save our democracy. If we vote wisely and if our country undergoes a new birth of freedom as a result, we will be filled with renewed effervescence — as well as the satisfaction of knowing we have done something of immense importance, that we will have made a real contribution to something greater than ourselves.
If all turns out well on Election Day (or however long it takes to count the ballots), we can then look forward to the holidays, even though they will be much altered this year. Scaled back and smaller, they will be nonetheless more meaningful — if we embrace what Howard Thurman said:
When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people, to make music in the heart.