I’m visited this morning by Howard Thurman (1899-1981) an African-American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader. Thurman was deeply influenced by my visitor of yesterday morning—Rufus Jones. Just as Thurman was inspired by Rufus Jones—Martin Luther King, Jr was inspired by Howard Thurman (especially through Thurman’s book, Jesus and the Disinherited). Jones, Thurman, and King were all influenced by the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi. Isn’t it funny how that works? My life has been influenced and shaped by these men—all of whom, including me, have been deeply influenced by the teachings and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.
Howard Thurman, along with Howard Fisk (a white minister) founded the first major interracial, interdenominational church in the United States. I never met Howard Thurman, but I became acquainted with him through his writing as a seminary student. Over the years, he has visited me through twenty-some books. Among these are: Deep is the Hunger, The Creative Encounter, Footprints of a Dream, The Inward Journey, The Centering Moment, The Mood of Christmas and many others.
The first thing Howard says to me this morning is simply this— “There must always be remaining in every one’s life some place for the singing of angels…” What a wonderful way to begin a visit. As we continued to chat, I was suddenly and mysteriously hearing “the singing of angels.” It is hard, Howard told me, to live life fully without a sense of fancy. A sense of fancy is not the same as a sense of fact, but it is just as significant. A sense of fancy seems to be a gift given to all little children, who people their world with fairies and lovable dragons. “The little girl has a real conversation with her doll; Santa Claus does come down the chimney, and he has reindeer and a sleigh, and he does live at the North Pole…”
In adults this sense of fancy can and must continue to influence the attitude and outlook we have toward the world and toward people. We must, through this sense of fancy (imagination) develop the ability to envision things in terms of their highest meaning and fulfillment, even as we grapple with them as they are (the hard facts). It is not that we disregard the sordid and mean spirits that do, in fact, exist, but that we deal with these in the light of their highest possibilities. “A developed sense of fancy illumines the dark reaches of the other person until there is brought to light that which makes for wholeness and beauty in him. This is what God is doing in human life all the time.” Hopefully I can hold on to what Howard has shared during our visit. I will fancy I hear the singing of angels in me and in you.