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Oct 032017

Quotes from Richard's Book

Aug 212017

Quotes from Richard's Book

Jul 242017

Quotes from Richard's Book


May 142017

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 6/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.

 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 6)

Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

As we saw earlier, the dictionary defines prayer as:

a spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.*

This definition captures the essence of the way we typically approach prayer. We tend to focus on “supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.” These are all valid and even necessary ways we communicate with God. They are all an important part of what prayer should be, and yet they all focus on our approach to God. If we are not careful this focus can cause us to miss prayer’s deepest meaning: “a spiritual communion with God”. The dictionary defines communion as:

the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.**

It is this “sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings” that is the very essence of prayer for me. It is not enough for me to communicate with that Mysterious Other I call God. “Supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession” is extremely important, but it can take us only so far. What I seek is what the monastics call Divine Union. I want God to communicate with me too. I want God to actually lead my life. I want God to actively provide ongoing “guidance, strength, and courage” for my routine day-to-day interactions with the people, events, and things that make up my life. I want real communion with God—real day-to day two way communication. Nothing else is enough.

Let me be very clear here. Someone once said, “we do not need to listen to God because God has already communicated everything he had to say in scripture”. I simply do not believe that is true. When my wife read this statement she said, “So does that mean that God is dead and there is no holy spirit?” That seems to be a reasonable conclusion to me. Scripture, and other people’s commentary on scripture, can only tell me how the writers of both scripture and the writers of scripture commentary related to God. It can help clarify goals and practices, but it does not and cannot provide real two-way “communion”—real “sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings”. It ultimately does not and cannot take us to Divine Union. It can call us and lead us toward a deeper communion, but it is not that communion, and it is not near enough.

Then how does this communion take place? How does Divine Union actually happen? How does this Mysterious Other actually communicate with us and provide “guidance, strength, and courage”? There is a place deep inside of us I have come to call the Sacred Inner Being where this relationship—this communion can happen. One of the most profound goals of prayer in specific and the whole spiritual life in general is to discover, acknowledge, and develop an ongoing relationship with that Sacred Inner Being. It is here that we can develop real communion—a deep, ongoing, two way relationship and communication with God. It is precisely here that this Mysterious Other can provide us with that ongoing, day to day “guidance, strength, and courage” so central to living a spiritual life. It is here that divine union can happen. That Sacred Inner Being is always there. It is always available to us. Always! We have only to be open to it.

It is through prayer and spiritual practice that we can learn to quieten our ego driven turmoil and be attentive to that Sacred Inner Voice we so often ignore. As we learn to recognize the source of that Sacred Inner Voice in our prayer—in our time apart—over time it becomes a part of the way we approach and live our active lives. That Voice will more and more speak to us in the events of our day. It will provide us with that “guidance, strength, and courage” we need. Over time that voice will lead our lives and we will experience true Divine Union.

Two People Talking

Photo by Winnie Southworth

Listening to that sacred inner voice is not enough. If we are to experience true Divine Union we also have to be obedient to the “guidance, strength and courage” that comes to us through that Voice. We have to live our lives in response to that Voice. This is the very essence of what spiritual maturity is all about—learning to listen to our Sacred Inner Voice and be obedient to it in all of the myriad interactions we have with the people, events, and things in our day to day lives.

As a recent personal example, I have been looking for, or better said, wishing for, a really good life coach. I had convinced myself that I would not be able to find one that would really understand me, or as my grandson’s then girl friend once put it, that “really gets me”. I do not fit the traditional molds. I am not a traditional Christian. I am a strong introvert in a primarily extroverted world. And I am certainly not into the traditional culture.

So I am sitting in a group meeting I participate in. Everyone is engaged in small talk and I am wanting to be at home in my room. There is a woman there who I had never really connected with, but I did know that she was a coach. She started talking about something I was interested in, and I realized she was someone I could talk to. That said the introvert in me was resisting asking her about the coaching. As I was about to leave that Still Small Voice that I have come to trust “said to me” “Richard, you should really talk to her about coaching, and you should do it now”. The resistance in me was palpable, but I was “listening”, and I knew I needed to be “obedient” to the leading of that Sacred Inner Voice, so I walked up to her in the group and asked her about the coaching, something I would normally never even consider. We met a week later and really hit it off. It was clear to me that she really did “get me”, and we developed a coaching relationship that is really special to me.

If I had not been listening, and if I had not been obedient to what came to me I would still be complaining about not being able to find a coach that “gets me”. Let me be clear here, there was no audible voice that “spoke to me”. It was simply that “Still Small Voice” that rose up from that deep place in me that I have come to trust. It was just a clear awareness of what I was called to do, and I was listening to it, and I was obedient to it. I trusted it, and I knew it was guidance from that Mysterious Other I call God. (More about how we “know” and come to recognize and trust that inner voice later.)

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you recognize that Sacred Inner Voice in your life?  Does that voice sometimes speak to you and provide you with guidance, strength, and courage?  Do you trust that guidance?  Are you obedient to it? 

* Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.
** Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.

If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…

Developing Attention  View…
The Power of Focused Attention

Developing Openness  View…
Becoming Vulnerable 

Attention To Our Speech View…
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

Developing Apatheia View
Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses

Prayer (This post)
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

(Coming Soon)

Developing  A Way of Life
A Guide To Live By

Seeking Consonance

Richard’s Rule of Life

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May 012017

My image of Westboro Baptist Church has always been negative, and that is an understatement.  When someone sent me the link to this Ted Talk, it sat in my inbox for a long time.  I could not bring myself to click on it.  I could not convince myself that anything good could come from there.  But I trusted the person who sent it to me, so I finally did click on the link.  After listening to it I immediately thought of posting it here on Turning Around because the message was a powerful one.   But again, it sat on my To Do list for a very long time.  Did I really want to be associated in any way with Westboro Baptist Church?

But here it is.  It is here because in the end there is something very important, something even spiritual, for us to learn about how we interact with people whose beliefs are different from ours.  It applies, not only in reference to blatant cases like people from Westboro Baptist Church.  It applies also to our interactions with people in our own churches who do not believe as we do.  It applies to our political discourse today as well.  There is much for us to learn from Megan Roper’s experience. I encourage you to take the time to listen!  I encourage you to add your comments below following her advice.

At the end of this presentation Roper points to four practices that can facilitate difficult conversations:

  1. Don’t assume bad intent!
  2. Ask questions!
  3. Stay calm!
  4. Make the argument!

We could all benefit from turning those principles into personal values and applying those values, especially in our religious and political discussions, but really in most of our daily conversations with family, friends, and others.  How might that change our relationships?  What if, like her future husband, we applied those principles even when, or especially when, others were not so kind?  What if we applied those values because they were our values, in spite of the actions and reactions of others?

Aug 292016

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 7/9 of Reflection III: of that series titled What Is Prayer Anyway | Examining Our Vision.

 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of My Own

Reflection III
What Is Prayer Anyway
Examining Our Vision
(Part 7 of 9)


Praying Without Ceasing
Letting Our Lives Become Prayer

Prayer is more than something we do from time to time, or at least it should be. In its most powerful form it is a way of approaching our lives. The call to ”pray without ceasing”* conjures up a vision of a monk walking along saying the “Jesus Prayer” (“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!”)** all day long. As good a practice as this may be from time to time for some, this book does not envision that type of practice. The call to pray without ceasing calls us to be conscious of the presence of that Mystery we call God and be guided by that consciousness wherever we are and whatever we are doing. It calls us to take our daily time apart for prayer and reflection. Approached in a certain way prayer practices open us to that consciousness. In that time apart it also calls us to listen carefully to that still small voice within where that Mysterious Other we call God guides us and gives us strength and courage. In that listening it calls us to discover who we are, who we are called to be, and ultimately how we are called to live our day-to-day lives. The call to pray without ceasing calls us to incarnate those discoveries into the way we actually experience and live our lives—”without ceasing”. It calls us to live that sacred rhythm of discovery and incarnation in every event of our lives. In this way our entire life increasingly becomes prayer. This “pray[ing] without ceasing”—this sacred rhythm of withdrawal into prayer and engagement in our active lives—is ultimately a lifelong journey of growth and transformation and conversion of heart. That is ultimately what prayer is all about. In its most basic sense this is what prayer is. This is ultimately at the very heart of why we pray.

Henri Nouwen points out that:

A prayer in church, at table or in school is only a witness to what we want to make of our entire lives. Such a prayer only recalls to mind that praying is living and it invites you to make this an ever-greater reality. Thus there are as many ways to pray as there are moments in life. Sometimes you seek out a quiet spot and you want to be alone, sometimes you look for a friend and you want to be together. Sometimes you’d like a book or some music. Sometimes you want to sing out with hundreds, sometimes only to whisper with a few. Sometimes you want to say it with words, sometimes with a deep silence.In all these moments, you gradually make your life more a prayer and you open your hands to be led by God even to where you would rather not go.***

Prayer At Picnic

Image From

There is more to this prayer without ceasing than having some time apart each day, as good and absolutely necessary as that practice is. If those times of prayer are to permeate our lives and make our lives more and more a prayer without ceasing, we have to open ourselves to that possibility. Regular time apart for prayer are necessary but still not enough. It is possible and maybe even likely that we can have those regular times of prayer without making the transition to prayer becoming a way of life. For that to happen with any consistently we have to change our attitude and our approach to prayer and to our active life. We have to change the way we are present in the events that make up our lives. We have to open ourselves to that growth and change.

Prayer often calls us to go “even to where [we] would rather not go”. Yet as Quoist put it, “Where shall I hide? I meet you everywhere. Is it then impossible to escape you?” If our image of God is big enough the answer to that question has to be a resounding “Yes, it is impossible to escape you!”, but then why would we want to escape anyway?

Question for Reflection

  1. Is prayer a regular part of the way I actually experience and live my life or is it mostly limited to my time apart for prayer? How might I might I make prayer more of an active part of my day to day active life?


1 Thessalonians 5:17 (KJV)

** Unknown Author, The Way of A Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way, (New York: Doubleday, 1992). p. 21,

*** Nouwen, Henri J. M., With Open Hands.  (Notre Dame, Indiana, Ave Maria Press, 1972), p. 158.


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If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

What Is Prayer Anyway?  View…
Seeking a Deeper Understanding

Prayer Is Not Magic View..
It Is No A ToDo List for God

Prayer Is A Relationship View…
Prayer Is Not A Monologue

The Foundation of Prayer View…
Stillness, Quiet, and Silence

Types of Prayer View…
Expanding Our Vision of Prayer

Praying Without Ceasing (This Post)
Letting Our Lives Become Prayer

What Will Prayer Ask of Us? View…
The Call To Transformation

Richard’s Answer To Question # 4 View…


May 212016

Quotes from Richard's Book

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.

Nov 072015

Every year my wife goes away for a week or so to visit her family.  I love my wife, but as an introvert I love being alone, so I value this alone time.  One of the things I have noticed is that for the first couple of days I tend not to actually do anything much at all.  I spend a good bit of my day just sitting, taking walks around the neighborhood, and thinking about nothing much.  To use Iyer’s language, “Going nowhere”.  Doing this time I seldom write or check my email, or even meditate.  Sometimes I have felt guilty about that.  With all of this free time one would think I would make better use of my time.  Iyer has given that “practice” a name:  “The Art of Stillness”.  In the process he has authenticated my experience.  In this video he makes the case for taking:

A few minutes out of every day
A Few days out of every season,
Or even, as some people do, a few years out of a life,
In order to sit still long enough to find out what moves, you most.
To recall where your truest happiness lies,
And to remember that making a living and making a life sometimes point in opposite directions.

He reminds us that:

In an age of acceleration nothing can be more exhilarating that doing slow,
In an age of distraction nothing is more exhilarating than paying attention,
In an age of constant movement nothing is so urgent than sitting still.




The place that travel writer Pico Iyer would most like to go? Nowhere. In a counterintuitive and lyrical meditation, Iyer takes a look at the incredible insight that comes with taking time for stillness. In our world of constant movement and distraction, he teases out strategies we all can use to take back a few minutes out of every day, or a few days out of every season. It’s the talk for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the demands for our world.*

Please add your comments and experiences below.


* From:


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