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Feb 172019

Richard is back.  My last post was on December 26, 2017, over a year ago.  A lot has happened in the last year.  Winnie and I have both had various medical problems and have been in the hospital more than once, had multiple doctors appointments, and physical therapy appointments.  I have had several post stroke events, and one that led to an accident and thus to me not being able to drive.  On the good side I have been meeting with a really good life coach* who keeps challenging me to get back to my writing among other things.  So thanks in large part to her, Richard is back.

Mark Southworth

Interestingly my wife and I and our downs syndrome son, Mark, get together most  evenings for meditation and prayer.  During the prayer time he, on his own, mentions each person in our family and what they need.  When he gets to me he always says something like “Help Daddy Dick with his book”.  He came up with that on his own.  So here I sit, working on my book.

My last post was entitled Work v. Grace:  Finding Balance (To view that post Click Here) The post is Part 5 of 9 of Reflection V: of that series titled Conversion of Heart | Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough. (To view all post in that reflection Click here).  I am in the final editing process for the next post in the series entitled Seeking Wholeness:  Care of Mind, Body, and Spirit.  It will be posted shortly.

All of that is part of a series tentatively titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own. This series will become my second book sometime soon.

I also plan to be reviewing the static pages associated with the blog and updating them where necessary.  As each page is reviewed and updated I will send a notification in a post.


To view and/or purchase my first book Choosing Authenticity: Religion Is Not enough click here.


* Kathryn Hall, mailto:

Nov 162016

Seasons of the Soul

Above is a link to an excellent article on Susan Cain’s website Quiet Revolution by author Adam McHugh in which McHugh makes a powerful connection between different seasons in nature and our soul’s need for different seasons as well.  He speaks of how we need to pay attention to those seasons and adjust our lives in response to their different calling.  But he goes further.  He talks about how those of us who live in areas where the seasons are not all that different still need to find ways to honor those seasons in our lives.

This struck a cord for me in another way.  I live in central Virginia so the seasons are significantly different.  That said someone asked me the other day how my weekend was, and I said something like “Just like every other day!” and I realized that since I retired in 2005, not only are weekends pretty much the same, but other than the need to wear different cloths the seasons are pretty much the same as well.  As I read McHugh’s article I was struck by the effect that has had on my life and the connection it has to my day-to-day life.  I often find myself bored with such things as routine family responsibilities and such.  I often even find it difficult to focus on my writing, something I love to do.  I go out to eat way too often, not because I really want to do that, but mostly because I just want to do something different.  Then I realized that was not enough anymore either.

McHugh has given me a lot to think about.  His insights ring true to me, and I need to take this into my time apart and reflect seriously on the implications for my life.  I encourage you to reflect on the article seriously as well.

Read, Reflect, Enjoy!

May 252016

This post is part of a series entitled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of Our Own.  It is the first section titled Reflection II:  Because We Must: The Call To Prayer.

 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection II
Because We Must
The Call To Prayer
(Part 3)

Responding To A Call.

We can trace this call to prayer back to the earliest days of human existence.  Archeologists have found paintings on cave walls and the remains of all kinds of ritualistic activities going back thousands of years indicating early human responses to this inner call to prayer—this call to relate to something deeper and bigger than ourselves and yet a part of ourselves, long before there were organized religions per se.  In more recent times all of the varied cultures of the world have developed innumerable responses to this call.  In states that have tried to suppress it, it has endured, sometimes in the underground, and sometimes in open defiance and rebellion. The Nazi holocaust is but one blatant example.  As awful as that time was many of the victims of that atrocity still found ways to respond to that inner call. We have only to look at The Diary of Anne Frank for one powerful example. Admittedly some of these developments have been questionable—even destructive and violent, but many of them have also been passionate and life giving.

Cave Drawings

Image from

Whatever else that can be said about the vast array of religious practice we humans have developed over the centuries, it seems clear that there is a deep inner call in us to connect with something deep inside of us and all around us—a call, the only formative response to which is prayer with all of its challenges, in all of its complexity, in all of its different forms, and ultimately in all of its beauty and sacredness as well.  In the end we pray because we must, but that sacred inner voice calls us not just to pray but to go further.  It calls us to go where we sometimes are reluctant to go.  Prayer, if we take it really seriously, calls us to change, to growth, to transformation, and to conversion of heart. It calls us to live truly authentic lives.  Prayer calls us to live our lives differently, and to be present in the events of our lives in a whole new way. This change and growth—this movement toward authenticity, is the thing we long for in the deepest part of ourselves, but it is also the thing we often fear the most. We long for it because it calls us to become the very essence of who we were created to be—of who we truly are. We fear it because, intuitively we know it will change us in ways that we cannot even imagine.

Make no mistake, true prayer taken seriously is hard work. It is The Work of the Spiritual Journey. As we shall see, it is more than having a relationship with that Mysterious Other we call God. It is more than the traditional approaches of praise, adoration, communion, conversation, petition, penance, and forgiveness. It involves all of those things and much more. Prayer, in its deepest sense, also involves solitude, listening, discovery, and incarnation. In the end it involves something the monastics call Divine Union. In the next several reflections we will take a look at each of those topics.

  1. Do I feel a call to spiritual growth, transformation, and conversion of heart? What would it take for me to respond to that call?


Other Posts in this Reflection:

(Part 1) Introduction View…

(Part 2) Why Do We Pray View…
Seeking Satisfactory Answers

(Part 3) History  (This Post)
Responding To A Call 

(Part 4) Awe And Wonder View…
The Call To Mystery

(Part 5) Suffering And Loss View…
Another Call To Mystery

(Part 6) Self-Awareness View…
Accepting Responsibility

(Part 7) Life Out Of Balance  View…
A Vision Of A New Life

(Part 8) An Experience Of Prayer View…
A Call To Depth

(Part 9) Richard’s Answer To Question # 3 View…


Mar 232016

This post is the second in a series entitled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of Our Own. It is the second section of Reflection I: Opening to the Divine Mystery: Discerning Our Attitude Toward God.

 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection I
Opening to the Divine Mystery
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God
(Part 2)

Is There A God?
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God

Is there really a God? Dare we even ask that question? If we are a “believer” might not serious questioning of our attitude toward God call that belief itself into question? Even if we accept that God exists, might not serious questioning of our attitude toward God call us to change all kinds of other things in our approach to God? Are we really willing to open ourselves to that possibility–that challenge? On the other hand if we are a “non-believer” might serious reflection on these questions call that decision into question as well? All too often we accept a “pie in the sky when I die” and/or a vaguely defined King on a throne in the sky image of God and do not look any further. Some of us just accept a mechanical universe as well, again without looking any further.

When I first heard that one of my favorite authors, Jacob Needleman, was writing a book about God the working title was reported as Who Is God? I looked forward to reading this book. Some months later, when the book actually came out, the title had changed to What Is God?* At first glance I thought that was strange and even a bit shocking. As I delved into this excellent book, I began to realize why the title had changed and just how important that change was. Before we can even begin to reflect on our attitude toward God we have to honestly look at the even deeper question of what God is for us. Is God a “person”? Is God a “spirit”, and if so what does that actually mean? Is God somehow to be found in consciousness itself? Is God in a way we cannot fully understand, the very substance of this awesome universe—the “stuff” that gives it its being and its energy, that gives us our being? We often say that “God is love”, so is God somehow to be found in love itself, and if so what does that actually mean? On the other hand is God a Divine Mystery that simply does not fit into any of our categories? Is God inside of us, outside of us, or in some mysterious way in all of creation? How we answer this question—What is God?—is foundational to the whole spiritual journey and to the attitudes we have toward that Divine Mystery, the universe, other people, and ourselves. It is critical for us to look at these questions seriously, and bring them into our prayer.

Each religion has some explanation for that ultimate reality some of us call God. Even an atheist in their very denial of the reality of God makes basic assumptions about the ultimate reality that is behind this awesome universe. I have my own understanding which I will share later in this reflection, but the important point here is that each of us needs to reflect seriously on this question ourselves and take it into our prayer.

Native American Chant

Native American Chant* | Photo by Winnie Southworth

All of that said, regardless of how we answer the question, What is God?, in the end we are still left with the original question: Who Is God for us? What attitudes are we to have toward this God? Whether we come to the conclusion that God is like a “person” or we come to realize that God is not like a “person” in the normal sense of that word, we still need to discover our attitude toward that Divine Mystery. I want to make an important point here. I realize that, when asked if God is a person, many or even most of us would reply instantly, “No of course not!”, but there are deeper questions even here. Are we acting as if God were a person? Are we talking about God as if God were a person? Are our attitudes toward God limited by and based on preconscious assumptions that God is a person? Is our approach to prayer based on those same preconscious assumptions? How might our approach to prayer be different if those assumptions were to change?

Question for Reflection

  1. Is there a God? What is God for me? Who is God for me? How do I know? Am I open to bringing these important questions into my meditations and prayer? Am I open to the possibility of my answers to these questions being transformed and growing ever deeper?


*Needleman, Jacob: What Is God?,  (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2009)

** Native American Chant used in a retreat attended by Winnie Southworth a number of years ago. Origin unknown.

Posts in this Reflection:

Introduction  View…

Models of Christian Spirituality View…
Seeking Divine Union 

God In The Image of Man View…
Avoiding the Challenge

Traditional Models View…
What Do They Mean Really?

Negative Images View…
Policeman, Judge, and Tyrant

Exclusivity View…
Our Way Or The Highway

God As Mystery View…
What or Who Is God

Richard’s Answer To Question #1 View…
What or Who Is God


Dec 022015

This is the second post in a series on Formative Reading.  Background information on this series can be found in the first post Formative Reading | Introduction.


by Richard N. Southworth

Reading and study has always been an important part of my life. I have been fascinated by books, and have been one of those people who kept their text books. In some sense, when I look at my bookshelves I have sensed that they symbolized my personal and spiritual development. Whenever we have moved I have always wanted to pack the books myself, and they were some of the first things to be unpacked and placed in just the right place on the shelves. The significance of this is multiplied by a general disinterest in attaching sentimental value to “things” from my past.Then there are those special books that I am constantly turning to when I want to make a point. Each of them expresses some unique aspect of my spiritual life and my understanding of the Mystery and its epiphanies. Deep down these books have played an important part in my spiritual formation, and now they both symbolize my formation history for me and serve as a means of sharing that history with others.

Richard Reading

Photo by Winnie Southworth

The Beginnings of Formative Reading

I had no real concept of formative reading. Initially I approached my reading in a basically informative way. I had a question that was churning inside of me, and I was looking for an answer. Yet when I look back I can see clearly that in my own stumbling way I had developed, in the midst of this, my own style of formative reading which included many of the dimensions and guidelines we have studied.

The Response of My Faith Tradition

In my faith tradition I found little support or guidance in this area. I grew up in conservative Southern Baptist churches. There one read scripture from a very strictly informative perspective. The only other reading would be commentaries which “informed” one of the “correct” meaning of those scripture passages. I have treated in another paper at some length, what I experienced as a very deformative relationship with my faith tradition, and this aspect of that faith tradition was no less deformative for me. There was a time when I began to read scripture in a more formative way. It really came alive for me. I developed a deep sense of what “the good news” was for me personally. What was revealed to me in those experiences was often very different from the kind of legalistic understanding of my faith community. Things that were of critical importance to them were of only passing interest to me. Things that just seemed to leap off the page at me when I read were often the source of downright persecution when I tried to share them. In the end I developed a real aversion to reading scripture at all, something which I have still not completely overcome.

My Academic Experience

Since my faith tradition offered me little constructive guidance I turned to the only alternative available in my life at that time. I had begun to study religion and psychology in a secular university. I found a religious studies professor there who became for me, a kind of informal spiritual guide. As I would discuss various aspects of my spiritual life with him he would recommend various books for me to read, I would write papers on some of them, or come back and discuss them with him. Because of his academic orientation, many of the books he recommended were current academic examinations of the particular topic. Yet, his approach was not just informative. He suggested that if a particular book or section did not resonate with me, I should lay it aside and possibly come back to it later, whether in a week or in a year. In several independent studies I did with him, he did not seem to care if I could repeat back the information in the books he recommended. He wanted to see that I was struggling with the questions they raised. From him I learned to engage in a dialogue between my own spiritual life and the material in the books I was reading.

 Formative Reading of the Spiritual Masters

It is just at this point that my studies at The Institute are playing such a significant role. It is here that my studies of the dynamics of formative reading, and the formative reading of the spiritual masters themselves have had the greatest impact.

When I reflect back on my early style of formative reading in light of the various guidelines we have studied, I am amazed and confirmed. With little or no real understanding of what I was doing I discovered a style of formative reading that was congenial with my own inner calling, and in many ways compatible with the methods we have studied.

In our studies we spoke of several disciplines that enhance the formative approach to spiritual reading. We spoke of a process of flowing from silence, to spiritual reading, to meditation, to prayer, to contemplation, to action, and of how these follow one another and at the same time interpenetrate each other. When I look back on my own approach I recognize each of these disciplines as integral parts of my approach to reading. Often when I approached such reading I would first sit in my favorite chair for a while and let my mind be quiet, and let all of the busyness that filled my mind dissipate. I would then read the text and begin a kind of inner dialogue with it, weighing what the author was saying with my own experience, agreeing and disagreeing, sometimes fighting it, sometimes taking the ideas and running with them, and then going back and reading the passages again. Sometimes I would write in my journal, or take long walks and let the material run through my mind, over and over. I would sometimes talk out loud as I explored the meaning of the passages and the impact they might have on life. As insights came there were often little “prayers” of both wonder and petition which came up spontaneously, and this sometimes led into a longer, more focused time of prayer. Many times at the end of this process I would either sit in my chair, or more often, stand on a hill during one of my walks, and all of the thinking and analyzing and even the prayer would just stop. In a sense it would just run its course, and I would find myself filled with awe and wonder in a variety of ways. It was precisely here that I felt/knew that I had somehow come face to face with The Mystery in some unexplainable way. This would often be followed by a similar process where I attempted to discern how these new insights should be lived out in the world. What is important here is the very strong confirmation I experienced in our discussion and study of the process of formative reading. A very central part of my spiritual life, which had been devalued and sometimes openly criticized, was confirmed in such a powerful way that it brings tears to my eyes to write about it. It is a tremendously freeing experience, almost like being released from a prison. I no longer feel as if I am struggling against the world to maintain a part of my spiritual life that I know is a critical part of my life call. I am free to develop this part of it more fully in light of our study.Yet this is only half of the process of confirmation. As I have read each of the spiritual masters, other parts of my unique spirituality which had been maybe even more strongly devalued and criticized were confirmed in an equally powerful way.

The next post will include my experience reading related St. Bonaventure

Dec 012015

I recently received this email from a concerned follower on my blog.  It was in response to my post A Religion of My Own | Waking Up – Again.  Since he chose to send me this in a private email rather than as a comment on my blog, he will remain anonymous.  I do very much appreciate him taking the time to offer his comments and concerns on this important topic.

Hi Richard,

In your thoughts of a religion of one’s own, you bring to mind a warning given to seekers who define their own journey. Please find the first two paragraphs below.  The whole article may be found at

The Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity

by Bishop Kallistos Ware

One who climbs a mountain for the first time needs to follow a known route; and he needs to have with him, as companion and guide, someone who has been up before and is familiar with the way. To serve as such a companion and guide is precisely the role of the “Abba” or spiritual father—whom the Greeks call “Geron” and the Russians “Starets”, a title which in both languages means “old man” or “elder”.

The importance of obedience to a Geron is underlined from the first emergence of monasticism in the Christian East. St. Antony of Egypt said: “I know of monks who fell after much toil and lapsed into madness, because they trusted in their own work … So far as possible, for every step that a monk takes, for every drop of water that he drinks in his cell, he should entrust the decision to the Old Men, to avoid making some mistake in what he does.”

I had also received two other much shorter emails from two minister friends expressing similar concerns so I want to answer that question here.

On the light side, I have a seven year old granddaughter who is fond of calling me “Old Man”.  It has become a kind of family joke.  I am not at all sure if she sees me as an “elder” in the deeper sense or not, but it is clearly a term of endearment on her part.  It seems clearly better than my wife who she likes to call “that crazy old woman”.  What is that old saying, “I don’t care what she calls me, just so she calls me”?

That said this points to something deeper.  I think our society has mostly lost the concept of the “Old Man” or the “Elder”, even in our religious traditions.  At least in the many protestant churches I have attended when I have talked about Spiritual Direction, most people either did not know what I was talking about, or if they did, they did not see the need.  As indicated in the email the concept is retained mostly in the Christian monastic tradition, and apparently in the Christian Orthodox tradition.

So what is one to do?  I have been on this journey for a bunch of years, and there have been a number of guides that have shown up and stayed for a time.  Maybe the first was a Religious Studies Professor when I was in undergraduate school some thirty or more years ago.  There have been a couple of ministers, spiritual directors, coaches, and friends who have served in that role on some level.  Each has come and met a need for a time, and then, for various reasons, transitioned out of my life, or at least out of that role.  Maybe one of the most long lasting of those guides is my friend and Catholic priest, Fr. J. Patrick Foley, who I have known for some 27 years.  Interestingly each of the ministers who have served as a guide did so in essence outside of the church setting. Maybe the most powerful and consistent guide of all is my wife, Winnie, who consistently holds me back when I start to stray too far off of the path, supports me, and challenges me when I hide and resist taking the next step.


Photo by Winnie Southworth

While all of these guides have played an important part in my journey, none of them have served as a true “Geron” or “Starets” as mentioned in the above referenced article.  None of them have served as my “abbot” as the monastics speak of it.  The truth is that none of them seem to have seen themselves even potentially in that role, including the Spiritual Directors I have had over the years.  Each of them journeyed with me for a time, offered me guidance and correction in their own way, and in one way or another, encouraged me to find my own way.   In essence each of them encouraged me to find “a religion of my own”.  It took me years to heed that advice.

Maybe some of the most consistent guidance I have received over the years has come from my reading.  Authors such as Jacob Needleman, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Keating, and yes, Thomas Moore the author of A Religion of One’s Own.  These and  many other authors have appeared and reappeared in my life at just the right times to serve as my guides, and on some level even my “Geron” or my “Starets”.

My wife also pointed out that I love to talk about the spiritual journey, pretty much with anyone that will listen, including in some small groups.  In those conversations I listen to other people’s reactions to what I share, and to what they share about their own journeys.  In the process that sharing serves as guidance for my own journey.

All of that said, maybe the only real “Geron” or “Starets” on my journey is ultimately that Mysterious Other I call God.  Maybe that guidance can only come from that Still Small Voice that speaks to me in moments of deep contemplation—in moments of deep prayer.

I am aware of the concern here, and I take it very seriously.  Yes, in all of this careful discernment is critical.  People sometimes provide bad advice, or at least advice that does not speak to my unique journey.  That still small voice that I listen to at times may not be God at all, but my own ego.  I need to be careful that my choices and decisions are consonant—that they are congenial to my own sacred inner being, that they are compatible with the reality in which I live my life, and compassionate toward myself and others.  That will have to be enough.  Anyway no person has shown up in my life who I would begin to trust at that level.  Maybe that is as it should be.

As always I encourage you to add your thoughts and comments to this and any other post.

Aug 152015

In an effort to simplify my life I have consolidated my website ( and this blog (  Essentially I have taken the main content from the website and made it into pages on the blog.  Please not the new tabs on the menu.  The website is no longer active and both and will land you here on the blog.

In the process I know that you have received multiple email notifications over the last few days.  Some of those notifications related to the posting of the new pages from the website.  Some of them unfortunately, resulted from me accidentally hitting “publish” when I meant to hit “preview”.  I apologize for any inconvenience the extra notifications might have caused.  Some of the pages were difficult to format and required multiple previews to get them right.

Some of the images in some pages and posts were linked from the website and disappeared when I took the website down.  I think I fixed most of them, but if you see anything missing please let me know.

Read, Reflect, Enjoy!

Nov 192014

I was recently asked to write a reflection on Psalm 51 for advent booklet we were preparing. I chose verses 10 through 12 which have always spoken to me.

10Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Psalm 51 (NIV)

Psalm 51 has been a part of my time apart since the very beginning of this spiritual journey, and it is these three verses that always touches me as I go through the psalm.  “Create in me a pure heart Oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.  It is not too strong a statement to say that this single verse expresses the very essence of my whole spiritual quest.  It is my fervent and ongoing prayer.  Each time I sense that I have made progress in this lifelong endeavor the second verse cries out in me, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.”  Each time I sense that I have fallen back into old habits I want to cry out, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”  This pattern of growth and transformation, this desire to live in that new space, this sense of falling back, and this renewed desire to have a willing spirit to continue on the journey seem to always be present together.  One seems to always be followed by the other, and the journey continues. It is like a continuous spiral, going ever deeper and deeper—calling to me in ever new ways.  I pray that this voice never goes silent, and I return to these verses again and again as I enter my time apart.

Aug 232013

As I have written about in another post, my wife and I do this thing that the family calls “bickering”.  One of us will say something, the other one will take issue with it, and we are off.  Most of the topics are not even important, but the bickering often continues for way too long.  We have worked on the bad habit recently, and we have gotten much better.  We don’t bicker near as often as we did and when we do one of us will call attention to it, and thus they don’t last near as long as they used to.

That said, the other day we in fact began to bicker and it lasted way too long.  In this case, even though the issue was totally unimportant, neither of us were willing to let it go.  We finally stopped and decided to go out to dinner. We went to a Chinese restaurant, and when we were done we got the usual fortune cookies.  Normally they are both different, but this time when we opened them they were both alike.

Fortune Cookie

Fortune Cookie

I could no doubt written a very profound blog post about the spiritual importance of “calm, poise, and balance”, but in this context this simple message in a fortune cookie was all either of us needed to hear.  Had we been practicing these simple spiritual principles, the bickering we had engaged in would never have happened.

On one level I found this to be funny, but on another it really reminded me that we can find wisdom in a lot of different places, even in a fortune cookie.  So with this thought running around in my head, I was driving down the road a day or two later, and I stopped for a stop light behind a car with this bumper sticker.

Bumper Sticker

Bumper Sticker

Ok, I get it!  Really, I get it!


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