What Makes You Come Alive

A Spiritual Walk with Howard Thurman

What Makes You Come Alive

A Spiritual Walk with Howard Thurman

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"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."--Howard Thurman

Known as the godfather of the civil rights movement, Howard Thurman served as a spiritual adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders and activists in the 1960s. Thurman championed silence, contemplation, common unity, and nonviolence as powerful dimensions of social change. But Dr. Lerita Coleman Brown didn't learn about him during her years of spiritual-direction training. Only when a friend heard of her longing to encounter the work of Black contemplatives did she finally learn about Thurman, his mystical spirituality, and his liberating ethic.

In What Makes You Come Alive, Brown beckons readers into their own apprenticeship with Thurman. Brown walks with us through Thurman's inimitable life and commitments as he summons us into centering down, encountering the natural world, paying attention to sacred synchronicity, unleashing inner authority, and recognizing the genius of the religion of Jesus. We learn from Thurman's resilience in the psychologically terrorizing climate of the Jim Crow South, his encounters with Quakers and with Mahatma Gandhi, and his sense of being guided by the Spirit. Each chapter illuminates an aspect of Thurman's work and includes reflection questions and spiritual practices.

Decades after their deaths, sages like Howard Thurman offer spiritual kinship and guidance for our contemporary life. Thurman's spirituality enlivened an entire movement, and it can awaken us to intimacy with God and to authentic action today.


"If you have been searching for an engaging introduction to Howard Thurman, here it is.... This book makes good on its central promise: in her hands, it is not a book about Howard Thurman; it is a spiritual walk with him. Accept her invitation to take that walk, and the healing won't stop with your spirit. Your body, mind, and heart will be restored as well."

Barbara Brown Taylor, author of An Altar in the World and Holy Envy

"Lerita Coleman Brown offers her readers the generous gift of guidance through Howard Thurman's wisdom. Weaving in her own experiences, the text becomes a sacred conversation about what it means to be fully human.... This should be required reading for anyone interested in spiritual direction or mysticism."

Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, online abbess of Abbey of the Arts and author of Breath Prayer

"Lerita Coleman Brown has written an excellent introduction to Howard Thurman, one of the most important mystics of our time. This book also stands as a beautiful and insightful survey of contemplative wisdom in its own right."

Carl McColman, author of Eternal Heart and The Big Book of Christian Mysticism

"In What Makes You Come Alive, Lerita Coleman Brown invites us to join her for a spiritual walk and conversation with Howard Thurman. Enhanced with practical exercises, reflection questions, and 'spiritual steps,' this wise, engaging, and deeply insightful book is a genuine treasure."

Jan Willis, professor of religion, emerita, at Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, and author of Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist and Buddhist

"Simply and elegantly written, this wonderful distillation of Howard Thurman's profound wisdom includes questions and guides at the end of each chapter that invite readers into their own creative encounter with their truth, mystery, and the love of God. I highly recommend What Makes You Come Alive to churches, religious and educational institutions, and spiritual seekers everywhere who are looking for an inward journey that finds its home in the world of nature, people, and things."

Walter Earl Fluker, editor and director of the Howard Thurman Papers Project and Dean's Professor of Spirituality, Ethics, and Leadership at Candler School of Theology

"What Makes You Come Alive opens many windows into the legacy of Howard Thurman, one of the most important religious thinkers of twentieth-century America, an inspiration to Martin Luther King Jr. and countless thousands of others. For both longtime admirers and those wishing to know more about Thurman, take a spiritual walk with Lerita Coleman Brown in this marvelous book. It brings Howard Thurman alive, and may work the same magic for you."

Peter Eisenstadt, author of Against the Hounds of Hell: A Life of Howard Thurman

"This book is the most extensive portrayal of Howard Thurman's influence upon a spiritual seeker. The 'walk' with Thurman and Lerita Coleman Brown invites readers to explore their own religious experiences that guide living with deeper meaning and fulfillment. Abundant insights are given for a lifelong journey."

Luther E. Smith Jr., PhD, professor emeritus, Candler School of Theology, Emory University

"Lerita Coleman Brown offers us a lucid, informative, and inspiring book focused on the life and writings of Howard Thurman and how they have influenced her own life. She provides us with many of his profound insights into a liberating, socially active, and mystical spirituality that makes us come alive. In doing so, she weaves spiritual and racial justice into a tapestry of sacred activism."

Rev. Tilden Edwards, PhD, founder and senior fellow of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation

"Even for those of us familiar with the genius of Howard Thurman and who also have a contemplative practice, Lerita Coleman Brown reveals new depths of spirituality befitting her lifelong experience as a scholar and spiritual mentor."

Ed Bacon, Episcopal priest and author of 8 Habits of Love

"What an immense gift from scholar, spiritual director, and contemplative Dr. Lerita Coleman Brown! In What Makes You Come Alive she offers a whole new generation ageless wisdom from one of the spiritual greats of the twentieth century--and right on time. Take a spiritual walk with Dr. Howard Thurman and find a guiding light to center down with the Holy One and become acquainted with your inner authority for sacred activism. This book is a treasure for all those yearning for spiritual sustenance in our exhausting and spiritually malnourished times."

Lisa Colon DeLay, author of The Wild Land Within and host of the Spark My Muse podcast

"Lerita Coleman Brown has done a magnificent job of demystifying the profound, multilayered wisdom of Howard Thurman in a way that has not been done before. She invites every single reader into a personally accessible, intimate encounter with Thurman's teachings, freshly relevant in our twenty-first-century world."

Arthur C. Jones, professor emeritus of music, culture, and psychology, University of Denver, and founder of The Spirituals Project

"This book guides the reader through Howard Thurman's life and philosophy just as Thurman himself guided people in mentoring them: gently, with ample use of stories and real-life situations, and with probing questions at the end to point one toward wisdom."

Paul Harvey, distinguished professor of history, University of Colorado

"Lerita Coleman Brown's What Makes You Come Alive invites all who will to step onto the seeker's path, to engage in the personal search for an 'ordinary mystic,' and to experience the joy of encountering Howard Thurman."

Catherine Meeks, PhD, executive director of Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing and coauthor of Passionate for Justice: Ida B. Wells as Prophet for Our Time

"To read this book is to walk with Howard Thurman and Lerita Coleman Brown through sacred encounters with nature, to unearth the religion of Jesus, to center down into your soul and the heart of God, to be inspired toward sacred activism, and to discover a liberating spirituality. Howard Thurman inspired and mentored many great women and men during his lifetime and beyond. Read this book and you may discover that you are indeed an 'ordinary mystic' and that you have the courage to 'follow the grain of your own wood' in this world."

Thomas J. Bushlack, PhD, contemplative coach and consultant

"From her heartfelt connection to Howard Thurman's work, Lerita Coleman's book weaves Thurman's life story, his teachings, and her own story in a way that will make you 'come alive.' Through these lenses, she opens us to the religion of Jesus, to center down and explore the questions 'Who am I?' and 'To whom do I belong?' Drawing on Thurman's words, Lerita poses reflection questions and spiritual steps that invite us to explore our inner authority and to imagine a more grounded, liberating spirituality. This can serve all of us, the disinherited and the powerful, to discern our way of sacred activism for today's polarized world."

Ravi Verma, retreat leader and past council chair of Spiritual Directors International

"What Makes You Come Alive is a warm welcome to meet African American mystic Howard Thurman and to explore our spiritual lives from a contemporary contemplative perspective. Brown's personal reflections on her encounters with Thurman's wisdom and legacy, and specific invitations for readers to connect with the many places we each meet Spirit, make for an intimate and soul-nourishing read."

Debonee Morgan, executive director of Zeitgeist

"While no one can walk our path for us, Howard Thurman reminds us that the Spirit blazes the trail and guides our feet. Through Lerita's deeply meaningful reflections on his life, we remember how God fans the flames of our hearts and kindles our desire for wholeness. This book is a powerful encouragement to trust, to love, and to take steps toward aliveness."

Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham, rector at Grace Episcopal Church, Gainesville, Georgia, and author of The Heart of a Calling

"Dr. Lerita Coleman Brown's writing brings a whole new offering to the canon on Howard Thurman. While others have interpreted his writings, Brown brings forth his softness in early relationships, his compassion in world concerns, and his fierceness in sacred activism. Brown crosses the boundaries of time to intimately engage with Howard Thurman like never before."

Cassidy Hall, author, filmmaker, and podcast host of Contemplating Now and Encountering Silence

"What Makes You Come Alive is an invitation to move into wholeness and authentic relationship, leaving nothing and no one behind. Through her skillful introduction to Thurman, Lerita Coleman Brown calls us to inner freedom, personal spiritual renewal, and a sacred type of activism of love and respect for all. This is not just a book about a historical figure from the past. It is a field guide to living wisdom here and now, offered right when it is needed."

Kevin M. Johnson, university professor and cohost of the Encountering Silence podcast


"Brown's vibrant portrait is sure to pique curiosity into Thurman's writings and open meaningful conversation about what the relationship between spirituality and social action can be today."

 Library Journal

"Brown illuminates Howard Thurman's lasting spiritual and societal impact."

Center for Action and Contemplation's Daily Meditations

Product Info

  • Publisher Broadleaf Books
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506474656
  • eBook ISBN 9781506474663
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.25
  • Pages 213
  • Publication Date February 7, 2023