Lerita Coleman Brown
Broadleaf Books, 213 pages | Published February 7, 2023
When I lead a church retreat or gathering, I frequently break the ice with the question, “Where do you feel most alive?” I love watching smiles slowly spread across faces as people recall time spent in nature, playing with children or a loved one, or invested in an impactful vocation. While I know I haven’t invented this question, it wasn’t until I picked up Lerita Coleman Brown’s book that I realized I had appropriated Howard Thurman’s most famous quote: “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.”
In What Makes You Come Alive, Brown invites us to join her and Thurman on a series of “strolls” through his life and work. Each walk is purposeful — Brown offers reflection questions and spiritual steps (or experiential activities) to fully engage us in themes that explore Thurman’s mysticism and activism. Yet she encourages us to take it slow so that we might experience some of the radical inner transformations that Thurman’s mystic experiences afforded him.
Thurman was a chaplain of sorts in the civil rights movement. As a spiritual advisor to Martin Luther King Jr., he advocated for the kind of radical nonviolence he had learned from Gandhi and Quaker teachings. As a Black public intellectual, he wrote groundbreaking works such as Jesus and the Disinherited in which he argued that Jesus, an oppressed Jew, had a unique connection to underprivileged people in contemporary society — a message buried by Paul (a free Roman citizen) and dominant Christianity.
Brown explores this through an overview of Thurman’s life and work, but this book is more than a biography. She presents “sacred synchronicities” — isolated events from Thurman’s life that trace a through line of God’s work in and through Thurman. She calls us to be open to mystic experiences and God’s power to transform us through them. What Makes You Come Alive is both a history for those who prefer to read about spirituality and a contemplative guide for those who prefer action — Brown deftly straddles multiple genres, making this a compelling read.
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