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Listening for the Sound of the Genuine — The Enduring Wisdom of Howard Thurman

January 10, 2023 @ 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm

In his last public address, Howard Washington Thurman (1899-1981) urged the audience of the 1980 Spelman College graduating class to “listen for the genuine” in themselves and others. Listening to the genuine was a theme interweaving his life and his writings about mysticism, spirituality and activism. As a mystic, theologian and scholar, he became the spiritual architect and spiritual director of the Civil Rights Movement. Through his classic book, Jesus and the Disinherited, and with quiet counsel, Thurman companioned social justice activists Bayard Rustin, Pauli Murray, James Lawson, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Jesse Jackson and thousands more.

During this webinar, we will walk through the life and writings of Howard Thurman and listen for the genuine; the words and ideas that Spirit holds uniquely for each of us and our ministries of spiritual direction/companioning. With this clarion call for the authentic, what do we hear about living as a contemplative, a holy child of God, an everyday mystic, a prophetic leader, and with inner authority as we answer our sacred call? In what ways does it help us to companion ourselves and those we journey with? Join us as we uncover the depths of inner freedom that emerge when we listen for the genuine, to what makes us come alive.


This SDI webinar is designed to support spiritual directors and companions, chaplains, and all involved with spiritual care. By exploring the living wisdom of Howard Thurman we join him in his desire to feed the timeless hunger of the human spirit and assist in the restoration of God’s beloved creation.Our 4-part series will provide an overview of Thurman’s contributions to spirituality, mysticism, and sacred activism. In the spirit of Howard Thurman who promoted interdenominational and interspiritual connections, we welcome people from all religious, spiritual traditions and orientations. Previous knowledge about Howard Thurman is not required.


This Webinar Series Will

  • Serve as an introduction to the spirituality and mysticism of Howard Thurman and their role in igniting and sustaining a social movement
  • Provide tools to help ourselves and those we guide to “walk in the world but not be overcome by it”
  • Create a space for community; for creating a network of like-minded individuals, cultivating new friendships and nurturing older relationships through small and large group discussions
  • Allow for a “weekly retreat,” an opportunity and space to bask in the loving Presence of God for 4 weeks



Session I: Living as a Contemplative and Contemplative Leader

During our first meeting, we will spend some time becoming acquainted with each other. We will learn about the origins and meaning of the phrase, “listening for the genuine” and why it resonates with so many spiritual pilgrims and sacred activists. We will explore how to develop the “inner knowingness” associated with listening for the genuine in yourself and others. We will examine the healing powers of corporate or group silence and introduce Thurman’s methods for creative silence. Finally, we will expand our conceptions of “contemplative” to include spiritual practices beyond silence, stillness and solitude; activities that spark a sense of Presence for ourselves and others. Which contemplate practices resonate with you and under what conditions? Howard Thurman firmly believed that spirituality could not be taught but it could be caught.

Session II: Living as an Everyday Mystic

The word, “mysticism” triggers fear and associations with devil worship in many religious people. Howard Thurman attempted to destigmatize mysticism and mystics by writing about “Mysticism and Social Change.” He offered a framework that categorizes different types of mysticism and mystics and creates new terminology (e.g., religious experience or creative encounter) to normalize mystical experiences. Our discussions and practices for this session will be framed around the following questions:

  • How do we know if we (or any person) are mystics? What attributes characterize a mystic?
  • How can mysticism facilitate social transformation?
  • How do we affirm and support ourselves and those we companion who feel unsafe to share their mystical experiences and remain closet or covert mystics?

Session III: Living as a Holy Child of God and Prophetic Leader

Growing up, Howard Thurman benefited immensely from being constantly told that he was a holy child of God and to make this knowledge the basis of his identity. He wanted all people to have an accurate sense of their self-concept especially marginalized individuals. Knowing one’s true self becomes key to developing the strength and courage to move against social and psychological barriers that prevent a sense of wholeness. This session will include a deeper scrutiny of the book, Jesus and the Disinherited and the role it played in awakening and providing vitality for dispossessed people. We will attempt to answer the following questions with our personal and group reflections:

  • Who are you and how did you come to know who you are?
  • Why is the awareness of being a holy child of God important?
  • What role does prophetic leadership play on the spiritual journey and in spiritual direction/companioning more specifically?
  • In what ways is Spirit calling each of us to become a prophetic leader and what does it mean for those who live life on the margins?

Session IV: Uncovering Inner Authority to Sustain a Sacred Call

Two of Howard Thurman’s favorite questions to ask those he advised were; “What do you want, really” and “What would make you feel like a worthwhile person in your own eyes?” He encouraged everyone he met to “Follow the grain of your own wood” and “Do what makes you come alive.”  Thurman felt every person has a call, a purpose, a role to play in the restoration of God’s beloved creation (which also included the environment). How do we discover our unique call? What obstacles might prevent us living our call? Howard Thurman adamantly argued that an awareness of one’s inner authority and control over one’s inner life are central to answering, sustaining and understanding one’s sacred call. A call may not remain the same but evolve over time.  Our final session will involve reflections on the following questions:

  • Have we begun to answer our sacred call?
  • How is the use of “inner authority” and “Inner Authority” essential to maintain a sacred call?
  • What is sacred activism and how might serve as part of our unique sacred call?



“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.”

– Howard Thurman

(from his 1980 commencement address at Spelman College)

  • Participants from all spiritual traditions and orientations are welcome in this webinar series as are those with all levels of spiritual experience.
  • Each session runs 90 minutes.
  • All sessions will be recorded and be viewable for at least 12 months after the last session goes live.



The webinar series will run 4 consecutive Tuesdays: January 10, 17, 24, 31, 2023 –  1 PM Seattle/Los Angeles, 3 PM Chicago, 4 PM New York, 9 PM London; Wednesdays October 12, 19, 26: 4 AM Hong Kong, 7 AM Sydney, Australia.Find your own local time here.But if that timing doesn’t work, you can enjoy the webinar any time you like.Each session is recorded so you can watch at your convenience.


Lerita Coleman Brown, PhD, Professor Emerita of Psychology, Agnes Scott College, is a spiritual director/companion, retreat leader, author, and speaker. A graduate of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, Lerita promotes contemplative spirituality, the living wisdom of Howard Thurman, and uncovering the peace and joy in one’s heart on her website, leritacolemanbrown.com and other social media platforms. Lerita appears in the documentaries, Back Against the Wall:  The Howard Thurman Story, (streaming on YouTube) and The Black Church as well as several podcasts. Her book, When the Heart Speaks, Listen—Discovering Inner Wisdom was published in 2019. What Makes You Come Alive—A Spiritual Walk with Howard Thurman, her newest book will be released by Broadleaf Press in February.

Additional Information

  • Participants from all spiritual traditions and orientations are welcome in this webinar series as are those with all levels of spiritual experience.
  • Each session will run 90 minutes. We understand that the timing of the seminar will not be convenient in every time zone on the planet. For those who have trouble making this time, a recorded copy of each session will be made available to all those who sign up.
  • CEU credits are available for all those who participate. SDI will provide a certificate of completion for self-reporting to agencies. More information can be found here: continuing education units (CEUs).
  • Cost: $119 for non-members, with significant discounts for SDI members
  • Scholarships are available for those facing financial hardship. Please apply here.



January 10, 2023
1:00 pm - 2:30 pm
Event Category: