Making one’s own wounds a source of healing therefore, does not call for a sharing of superficial personal pains, but for a constant willingness to see one’s own pain and suffering as rising from the depth of the human condition which all men share.*
Henri J. M. Nouwen
When I look at a website, read a newsletter, a reflection, or a book; or when I listen to a teacher or guide, I always want to know a little something about the person; his or her background, experiences, where they are coming from. This is especially true when the individual is sharing about his or her own personal growth and about their spiritual quest or offering services related to the spiritual journey. It also helps me when there is a picture so that I have an image of the person that is sharing their journey with me. In that light, I want to share a brief biographical sketch.
I aspire to live a holy life.
I aspire to live that holy life in the midst of my daily activities as an individual, a husband, a father, grandfather, and as a citizen in this world as it is, and as it will become.
I aspire to be in constant awareness of the mysterious divine center I call God; in myself; in each person, each event, and each thing that makes up my life, whether it appears to be good or evil.
I aspire to participate in the holy life with these people, events and things based on the directives and guidance that flows out of constant awareness of the mysterious divine center.
In light of that divine guidance I aspire to give shape and form to my life and world in a way that will bring an ever increasing consonance and holiness to my own life and that of those I touch.
In the pursuit of this holy life I aspire to challenge myself and others, but also to respect their freedom while being true to my own life call.
I have a Bachelor’s degree in General Studies with concentrations in Religious Studies and Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University. I also have a Master’s degree in Formative Spirituality from Duquesne University. I have considerable teaching experience including college courses, Christian retreats, marriage encounter, and presentations at professional conferences. Administrative experience includes Deacon at a baptist church, administrator of a non-denominational retreat center, manager for a health insurance company, board member for a non-profit organization, and sergeant with the Virginia State Police. I have also owned my own consulting company. This broad based education and experience finds its way into my writing and teaching. It allows me to focus on those foundational truths that cut across traditions, and it provides a crucial balance between spirituality and the real world of people, events, and things.
I grew up as a Southern Baptist, but I do not remember church being a really important part of my life as a child. After I was married I went to church off and on, more because of my wife’s encouragement than anything else.
My wife and I went on a Marriage Encounter Weekend in 1977, and then became involved as a team couple, and in the leadership of the non-denominational organization. I have fond memories of our time in Marriage Encounter, and I can also trace much strong personal spiritual growth to that experience. I discovered much about the emotional turmoil that has been so destructive in my life, and I learned how to share those emotions with Winnie and others appropriately. Maybe most importantly I learned that I was always responsible for those emotions and how they affected the people, events, and things in my life. I discovered a depth of intimacy in our marriage that I had not known, and I discovered the real meaning of spiritual community and communion. Beyond that, I learned that I could share my own life experience with others and even guide others in ways that brought healing and growth and that conversion of heart that has been so important in my own journey. Clearly the birth of this ministry can be traced back to our involvement in the Marriage Encounter ministry.
Through those years we attended various churches and became involved in leadership roles at some. I often found myself in conflict with the churches, its pastors, and its leadership. While I did find fellowship with individuals and couples in those churches, I almost never felt “at home” in any of them. I had a deep longing for that Mysterious Other we call God, but the churches I attended simply did not address that longing, and most of my friends just did not seem to understand what all of the struggle was about, though some of them tried very hard.
Some friends suggested that I should give up the struggle and accept the more standard path, while a more secular friend suggested that I should give up the religious thing all together and just get on with my life. They were valid questions, and I could only answer, “Because I simply cannot do that and live.” The questions rise up from the very depths of my soul, and they demand answers. Even in the most difficult parts of the journey this quest enlivens me and gives my life meaning, and brings me great satisfaction. I continue on The Great Journey, In Search of Life—In Search of God because I must. I simply must.
I found much in my academic studies that affirmed and enhanced my spiritual quest. In undergraduate school I was blessed with a religious studies professor who seemed to understand my quest and often pointed me to just the right book or just the right research topic before I even understood what the current questions were. I never quite knew what tradition he was committed to, but that was one of the things that made him such a gifted guide. He helped me articulate my own questions, and encouraged me to seek my own answers, but he also encouraged me to ground those answers in careful study and reflection. As I continue to work on my writing I strive to present the same open and accepting guidance I respected so strongly in this man.
My studies at the Institute of Formative Spirituality built on that foundation. There were too many blessings in my year at the Institute to cover here, but two things stand out. One of the central themes of Formation Science was what was known as “the metalanguage,” a language developed by Fr. Adrian van Kaam, C.S.Sp., the founder of the Institute. The language attempted to cut across religious traditions and secular traditions alike to articulate a “Foundational” spirituality that touched something very deep in my own quest. Maybe even more important to my spiritual quest, I was also touched very deeply by my studies of the writings of the saints and mystics. My own struggle was confirmed at the deepest level when I discovered these holy people struggling with many of the same questions and issues that marked my own quest, and often experienced the same kinds of pain and doubts.
Yet I left the Institute still filled with questions and deep inner conflicts that just seemed to have no answers. After we moved back to the Richmond area I went to church with my wife, but had very little spiritual practice beyond that. I eventually became disillusioned with church and just stopped going. Then in March of 1997, I picked up a book I had studied at the Institute and read it again. Some would argue that picking up this particular book was chance, while others would argue that it was grace. Whichever it was, it was mixed with some careful thought on my part based on my own personal experience and study. I am not at all sure I see the distinctions. It all worked together.
What I do know is that this event, as non-descript as it was, marked a major turning point in my spiritual journey. It was precisely here that I made a conscious decision that, even if I could not find the answers I sought in the church, I still had to respond to the deep inner spiritual longing I experienced. You might say that it was here that I gave myself permission to seek my own path, and maybe more importantly, to begin to trust that inner voice that at times spoke so clearly and so powerfully.
The book, Lost Christianity: A Journey of Rediscovery to the Centre of Christian Experience,** by Jacob Needleman, is clearly the single most important book in my spiritual quest. It articulates my deepest questions about the spiritual life, and it at least points to some of the answers. As I have read it, studied it, and reflected on it, I have been led into the world of monks, monasteries, contemplation, prayer, asceticism, and conversion of heart. From there I have begun to develop my own spiritual practice, and my own rule of life. In that practice I have found that Mysterious Other I call God.
I have also experienced at least the beginnings of the inner conversion of heart that is so central to the monastic experience, and that is such a powerful longing for all on the spiritual journey. Much of the anger and rage that had often filled my life is now gone or at least muted. It is often replaced by simple prayers, and by graced responses that more often lead to healing, to growth in my relationships, to changes in my environment, and especially in changes in the way others respond to me. That has been confirmed spontaneously by my family, and sometimes even by strangers. This growing freedom from the tyranny of emotional turmoil may be the single greatest gift on the spiritual journey. More and more I have begun to see my life, including the pain and suffering it sometimes brings, as an opportunity to strengthen my spiritual practice. I still struggle with life, with my relationships, with the church, and even with God, but that struggle itself is part of the quest, and it brings its own blessing and joy. I still find myself on The Great Journey, In Search of Life—In Search of God.
I graduated from Patrick Henry High School in Ashland, Virginia in 1962. I joined the United States Naval Reserve while still in high school. After graduation I went to college and studied architecture for one semester at Richmond Professional Institute (Now Virginia Commonwealth University), before leaving to go on active duty. I met my wife shortly after going on active duty, and we were married in 1963. We spent the first year and a half of our marriage in Bremerhaven, Germany where I served in the Navy.
After I was released from active duty, we moved to Blacksburg, Virginia where I went to college for a year at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. I first continued my studies in architecture and then transferred to agriculture. Neither program was right for me, and I quit college.
In December 1966 I joined the Virginia State Police as a Trooper. After training I served as a Trooper in Stafford County Virginia for approximately seven years. I was promoted to Sergeant and transferred to Wise, Virginia where I was the area Sergeant for approximately three years. I was then transferred back to Richmond, Virginia where I became a Special Agent in the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation for seven years.
Whatever arrests us invites us to meditation. I am arrested as I play a Bach partite on the piano, or when I come across a Lucas Cranach painting of Venus or when I stand on a wet beach with a camera in hand, or when I’m inviting the muse to give me a line to write.
I wonder if being arrested by the police has a relation to this religious meditation, and if the monk and the trespasser have something in common.***
Being a police officer had a profound effect on my spiritual journey. As a police officer I saw firsthand much of man’s inhumanity to man. I saw good people do bad things, and bad people do good things. I saw a great deal of pain and suffering and death and grief up close and personal. I also saw police officers and emergency service workers try to deal with this reality. Much could be said about the positive and negative effects this experience has had on my spiritual journey, but maybe one point should be mentioned here: it developed in me an absolute commitment to the real world of people, events, and things as they really are. Any spiritual theory or practice that works for me will have to speak to that reality
In 1983 my wife and I resigned our jobs and joined the staff of a non-denominational Christian retreat center where I served as the Administrator and she served as the Food Service Director. In reality all of us served in every capacity from janitor, to cook, to retreat leader.
The choice that Winnie and I made to quit our jobs and move our family to the retreat center was an expression of the depth of our individual spiritual longing and our calling to reach out to others on the spiritual journey. I learned much about my own spiritual quest during that time. I learned about spiritual living, living in community, spiritual guidance, and leadership. I also discovered a great deal about my own spiritual journey, and about personal spiritual practice. Much of it was vague and undefined at the time, but many of the things I have learned and experienced since those days have their roots in this time of struggle and growth.
After going to night school for a number of years I received a Bachelor of General Studies Degree in 1985 from Virginia Commonwealth University. My self-designed program was entitled “Patterns of Human Behavior” and included courses in Religious Studies, Psychology, and the Administration of Justice.
This program too played an important role in my journey. Over the years I had quit school, changed programs, and taken courses in various departments, and I was never quite at home in any of them. In developing this program I discovered that my interests really did cut across normal topical lines. I was fascinated by the interconnectedness of religion, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and the administration of justice. This program let me explore that interconnectedness in depth. One of the most powerful discoveries was when I realized that all of these disciplines were looking at many of the same issues and questions. They were just looking through different perspectives. This insight confirmed my unspoken intuitive insight that initially kept me searching from discipline to discipline. That interest in the interconnectedness of the various spiritual and wisdom traditions continues in my current study, experience, and teaching.
We left the retreat center in 1986 and moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where I went back to school full-time at Duquesne University. I received a Master of Arts Degree in Spiritual Formation in 1987 from The Institute of Formative Spirituality. I intended to continue on to obtain a doctorate; however, family considerations necessitated us moving back to Richmond in 1987.
I will comment later on some of the effects this program had on my spiritual journey, but one thing bears mention here. From the day I walked into the first class I felt at home with this program. It was said that most people who came to the institute to study either took serious issue with the theory or did not see anything unique in it for at least the first semester, until the real meaning would begin to reveal itself. From the very beginning my inner response was, “Yes! This is what I have been trying to say all of my life.” Of course I questioned some theories and ideas, but that sense of “Yes!” continued throughout the year and a half I spent there.
As I was finishing the master’s program I learned that I had been accepted into the doctoral program, and I really wanted to continue my studies. But there were a number of family and financial issues that made that a difficult decision. In my final summer semester I wrote a paper about spiritual longing in which I applied the theory I was learning to the question of whether I should continue my studies or move back home and take care of family issues. The writing process for that paper was very long and very painful, but the answer was very clear. Beyond the longing I had to continue my studies there was something much deeper. It was a clear call to live the spiritual life that I was learning and experiencing. Responding to that deeper calling, there was a clear imperative to return home and take care of family responsibilities.
Back in Richmond I became an Investigator for the Virginia Office of the Public Defender for six months before transferring to the Virginia Office of the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit as a Criminal Investigator. In 1990 I became an Investigator, and subsequently a manager, in the Financial Investigations Unit at Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, also in Richmond, Virginia. I retired from Anthem at the end of 2005.
As a friend recently pointed out, much of my life has been spent “looking for the bad guys.” He wanted to know about the effect that has had on my spiritual journey. “Looking for the bad guys,” has been a recurring part of my journey, and has in fact shown up at unexpected times and in places where it was unrelated to my employment. “Looking for the bad guys” is simply a particular way of holding people accountable for their actions and for the effects their actions have on themselves and the people, events, and things in their life. The methods are significantly different, but in a real sense spiritual guidance involves much the same task. The gifted guide helps us to discover our unique life call and then holds us accountable for being true to that call. Much of what that entails is “looking for the bad guys” in the sense of searching for the thoughts, emotions, impulses, and actions that both hurt others and block us from becoming who we are called to be as spiritual people. This recurring theme in my journey has given me a deep commitment to being honest with myself about where I need to grow, and to holding myself accountable for the effect the way I live my life affects myself and others. Much of what I write and teach is designed to encourage you to “go and do likewise.” As a guide I am likely to raise questions that will call you to go “looking for the bad guys.”
I was born in 1943 in Richmond, Virginia, and grew up in various locations in the Richmond area. I was married in 1963 in North Carolina. My wife, Winnie M. Southworth, was born in 1944 in Centreville, Maryland. We currently live in Mechanicsville, Virginia. We have three children and three grandchildren. Our oldest daughter was born in 1968. She is married and living close by with her husband, their two sons, and daughter. She has a PhD in Clinical Psychology and has chosen to stay home and home school her children. My son was born in 1970. He has Down’s Syndrome and lives at home with us. He is a janitor for a local janitorial service and a member of the local volunteer fire department. My younger daughter was born in 1972. She is currently living in Richmond.
My mother and father were divorced when I was in second grade, and my father died in 1967. My mother remarried in 1955, and my stepfather adopted me a few years later. My step-father died in 2003, and my mother died in 2006. They both lived with us during the last several years of their lives.
Walnut Grove Baptist Church
Richard is currently a Deacon at Walnut Grove, and the team leader of their Spiritual Formation Team which he started upon becoming a Deacon.
Spiritual Directors International
The mission of SDI is stated on their web page as follows:
Throughout human history, individuals have been called to accompany others seeking the Mystery we name God. In this time, Spiritual Directors International responds to this call by tending the holy around the world and across traditions. ***
It is in that same spirit that this ministry is operated.
We tend to look at all the things of life, from objects to people, as fixed, separate, one-dimensional givens. Could we also perceive the stories in which they live, the spirit that gives them context, the music made by their movements, the aromas emanating from their presence, the void displaced by their forms, the secrets hidden by their revelation? What kind of senses would be required for such perception?*****
* Nouwen, Henry J. M., The Wounded Healer: Ministry In Contemporary Society, (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1972), p. 90.
** Needleman, Jacob, Lost Christianity: A Journey of Rediscovery to the Centre of Christian Experience. (Rockport, MA: Element, Inc., 1980)
*** Moore, Thomas, Meditations: On the Monk Who Dwells in Daily Life.Â (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1994), p. 61.
***** Moore, Thomas, Meditations: On the Monk Who Dwells in Daily Life. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1994), p. 35.