Soft and mild wind helped to ease the hot summer air. I was sitting on our patio listening to the song of cicadas as I opened my newest book purchase: A 40-Day Journey with Howard Thurman. With the school break and business slowing down even in New York it was the perfect time to start a spiritual journey.
There could have not been a better person than Howard Thurman to start with as a guide. Since a few months studying as a German Lutheran at Wesley Theological Seminary for my D. Min. I am increasingly emerged into the complexity of Racism and White Supremacy in the United States. A problem, which I growing up in Germany was not aware in its depth and brutality. Thurman, as I quickly discovered, offers a way to combine faith and social action, religion and politics by giving examples from his own upbringing and situation in a deeply divided south.
As I opened the first page of the "used book in good condition", as the seller had described it, a small handwritten note fell into my lap. This was not a "message in a bottle", but a "message in a book", that was carried to me on the waves of transport through the American Postal Service.
With awe I read the anonymous penciled down message. The handwriting flowing over the page as if the words were spilled deeply out of a broken heart:
"When I dropped out of college, for weeks I didn't tell my parents. I just would be told I was a failure. I didn't want to disappoint my parents, my grandparents and my extended family. I don't recall calling on God to help me through this dark time. I probably felt I deserved all of it. Feelings and guilt and shame for not trying harder and sticking with it. I had quickly shed my faith after leaving home for college and avoided asking for guidance and help from God. I had better things to do than pray, " The last word was erased. Then my contact to the anonymous writer broke off completely.
My heart immediately burned for this stranger, who had experienced so much troubles. Was he able to make his way into a better and positive life? And more importantly: Was he able to find his way back into Gods loving arms? I would never know.
As our brief journey ended with the last hastily pencilled word, mine would just begin. The writings of Thurman I read up to now are an eye opener to understand the brutal make-up of a country I love since childhood. A country deeper divided by racism and skin color than I ever could imagine in my deepest nightmares. As I go on a 40-Day journey with Thurman to discover faith and love beyond color and race, my prayers will accompany the writer of this message in my book. May God show him the beauty in his broken-made-beautiful life.