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Oct 162017

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 3/9 of Reflection V: of that series titled Conversion of Heart | Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough.

 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection V
Conversion of Heart
Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough
(Part 3)

Divine Union
Letting Go Of The Ego

As I said earlier:

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.

Divine Union is the ultimate goal of Listening Obedience. It is at the very heart of the conversion process. It is the goal of the whole spiritual life. In Divine Union I am called again and again to let go of my ego—to let go of those compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses that typically drive all my actions and all my reactions to the people, events and things that make up my daily life. In Divine Union I am called to continually be guided by that Sacred Inner Voice where that Mysterious Other I call God—in the traditional language the Holy Spirit—regularly speaks to me and offers me guidance and strength and courage as I go through my day. Divine Union is when that Sacred Inner Voice actually guides all of my actions and reactions—guides all of my thoughts, all of my emotions, and all of my impulses—in all of the routine nitty-gritty events of my day-to-day life. It is a very high standard. I cannot live there, but reaching for it—questing for it—gives my life it’s meaning.

In Henri Nouwen’s description of “that man” Nouwen points out that:

In everything he says and does, he seems to have a lively vision before him which those who hear him can intimate, but cannot see. This vision leads his life. He is obedient to it. Through it he knows how to distinguish between what is important and what is not. Many things which seem of gripping immediacy hardly stir him, and he attaches great importance to some things which others simply let pass.

This is a description of a person living in Divine Union. This is a person who is listening to their Sacred Inner Voice, and is being obedient to it. The “vision that leads his life” comes from that Sacred Inner Voice. His life is no longer driven by his ego—by his compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses. This is a man who has truly acquired the “mind of Christ”. He is a classic vision of a spiritually mature person.

Let me be very clear here, we do not become “that man” overnight. We do not arrive at “Divine Union” because we took the “aisle walk”, though it may very well begin there. The truth is that in the end we do not “arrive” at Divine Union, we journey toward it. As Fr. Foley points out this journey toward Divine Union—this journey of conversion of heart—is a life long journey. The journey begins in earnest when we commit ourselves seriously to the spiritual life and to spiritual practice and prayer. It begins again each time we discover that “something other than the love of God has taken the central place in my heart and life.”, to again quote Fr. Foley. It begins again when we feel “the grace of remorse”. The journey toward Divine Union is truly a lifelong journey.

I want to make a distinction here between guilt and “the grace of remorse”. In much contemporary Christian thought we equate guilt with sin—with some scriptural or theological principle we have violated. Then we all too often let ourselves off of the hook by saying we are forgiven for those sins. We avoid the call to growth and transformation implicit in the situation. We sidestep the hard spiritual work of conversion of heart. The “grace of remorse” comes from deep inside of ourselves—from our soul—from our Sacred Inner Being. Remorse may in fact have its roots in some “sin” we have committed—from some scriptural or theological principle we have violated, but not necessarily. “The grace of remorse rises up from inside of us when we are not living up to our own internal beliefs and commitments—when we are not living authentically. We may very well be “forgiven” for our perceived sin in the contemporary sense, but the only really satisfactory response to the “grace of remorse” is personal growth, transformation, and conversion of heart. The only really satisfactory response to “the grace of remorse” is the hard spiritual work of real change in the way we actually experience and live our day-to-day lives. This is the movement toward Divine Union.

This journey toward Divine Union is not always an easy journey. It is often very hard spiritual work. It is often even painful spiritual work as we over and over again discover ever new places where we need to grow and change. It can be especially difficult when we discover yet another “cherished” personal trait that needs to change, and yet another ego driven response that needs to be released.

Divine Union

Image from

Just this morning as we were preparing to go to church I found myself frustrated at a family member who seemed to me to be trying to run the universe including me. I found myself sniping at him repeatedly. Yet, at the same time I spontaneously found myself more and more aware of that Sacred Inner Voice calling to me. I sensed that Grace of remorse for my responses. I did not have to stop and meditate. I did not have to pray. No one had to call my attention to it. Someone did remind me, but it only served to strengthen what I already had sensed from deep inside myself. That Sacred Inner Voice had already inserted itself in the midst of my reactions, and I already knew I needed to be obedient to it. Divine Union was at work in me.

The quest for Divine Union has been and continues to be the single most rewarding quest of my entire life. Other practices have brought significant growth and change and transformation. They have laid the groundwork for this quest for Divine Union. None have brought the depth of growth and change and transformation that comes from Divine Union. Other practices allowed me to change behavior. Divine Union allows me to change how I am present in the events of my life—how I actually experience the people, events, and things in my life. Divine Union takes the Spiritual Life to a whole new and powerful level.

Question for Reflection

  1. Have I ever experienced Divine Union? Have I ever had that Sacred Inner Voice insert itself spontaneously into my actions and reactions to the people, events, and things in my day? How might I build on that experience? How might I begin, or begin again. to develop an openness to Divine Union in my day-to-day life?

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

Conversion of Heart: (View)
Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough

Conversion of Heart (View)
What Does It Really Mean?

Divine Union (This Post)
Letting Go Of The Ego

(Coming Soon…)

Work v. Grace
Finding Balance

Care of the Mind, Body, and Spirit
Seeking Wholeness

Healing Old Wounds
Letting Go Of The Past

Becoming Authentic
Incarnating Our True Self

The Real Reason We Pray
To Be Transformed

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Oct 062016

Quotes from Richard's Book

Sep 052016

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 8/9 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 8 of 9)


What Will Prayer Ask Of Us?
The Call To Transformation

Sometimes it seems to me that we approach prayer as something designed to change God—to persuade God to do our bidding.  As I mentioned earlier, all to often our prayers sound like a todo list for God.  If we  pray for ourselves we are often just asking God do something for us, and even if we pray for growth or change we are asking God to change us.  We want God to do all of the work.

But then there is this from Romans:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 

Romans 12:2 (NIV)


Photograph by Winnie Southworth

This sounds more like we are being asked to grow and change, and there are very specific instructions for that growth and change.  A persistent commitment to prayer will call us to that growth and change.  It will call us to “the renewing of [our] mind”, and to discerning “his good, pleasing and perfect will” for our lives.  We can pray for God’s guidance and strength and courage, but in the end true prayer will call us to do the “work of the spiritual journey”—to receive that guidance and implement it into our active lives.  In the end this is work which we have to do ourselves.

At its heart Christianity is an inner path of growth and transformation out of which all else in the spiritual life grows.  The essence of that path is captured in these two verses from Romans.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world.  Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.  Discern how we are called to live our lives.  The monastics call this path conversion of heart.  From a more academic perspective it  is called spiritual formation.  Our journey along this path is a lifetime journey.

Belief is not enough.  Baptism is not enough.  Prayer is not enough.  Fellowship is not enough.  Worship is not enough.  Service is not enough.  All of these and other similar activities are good and absolutely necessary parts of the spiritual life,  but they are not enough.  If the spiritual life is to reach its full potential ongoing personal transformation is essential.  That call to “be transformed”, and to “test and approve what God’s will is” must form the very foundation of our daily lives—the very foundation of our belief, our baptism, our fellowship, our worship, and our service, and thus of our prayer.

It is this ongoing “work of the spiritual journey” that is at the center of my own spiritual journey and all of my writing and teaching. There are valid spiritual Practices that facilitate this ongoing growth and transformation that I have come to call The Practice.


Photograph by Kate McFarland

It is spiritual practice—prayer practice that:

  • quiets the inner turmoil of compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses that typically drive our lives, and;
  • guides us to the ongoing discovery of who we most deeply are  and who we are called to be as unique spiritual persons, and;
  • facilitates the ongoing incarnation of those discoveries into the reality of our day-to-day active lives.

Said another way [a valid life of prayer] must ultimately lead to real growth and change—real transformation and conversion of heart.  It must ultimately lead to our active lives increasingly becoming an authentic expression of who we are and who we are called to be by that Mysterious Divine Presence that created us and  guides us and gives us strength and courage.   It must facilitate Choosing Authenticity.

That is what prayer is all about.  Ultimately that is what the entire spiritual life is all about.  I want to share some of my own experience and some of what I have learned so far through study and through my own practice.  It is my hope that it will challenge you to begin or deepen your own journey of growth and transformation.  If I can help just one person along this journey this labor of love will be worth it.

Question for Reflection

  1. Have I felt called in my prayer to growth, transformation, and conversion of heart?  What specifically have I been called to change in my prayer life, and in my active life?  How have I responded to that call?  In what specific area of my life to I feel called to growth and change now?  How will I respond?

Purchase Choosing Authenticity: Religion Is Not Enough

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  View…
Letting Our Lives Become Prayer

What Will Prayer Ask of Us? (This Post)
The Call To Transformation

Richard’s Answer To Question # 4 View…


Feb 042016

This post is the first in a coming series entitled The Work of The Spiritual Journey. In future posts in this series we will go into more detail on what I have come to call “The Practice”— the prayer practices that have changed my life.  Click here to see other posts in this series.


The Work of the Spiritual Journey

The Practice

Richard’s Story


Painting and Photo by Winnie Southworth

The Quest

Please, try to remember.
You looked at me and you called me by another name.
Dulcinea, Dulcinea.
Once you found a girl and called her Dulcinea.
When you spoke the name an angel seemed to whisper,
Dulcinea, Dulcinea.
Dulcinea, Dulcinea.
Won’t you please bring back the dream of Dulcinea?
Won’t you bring me back to that moment of shining glory?
Of Dulcinea, Dulcinea.
Perhaps, perhaps it was not a dream.
You spoke of a dream, and about the quest.
The Quest.
The words, tell me, tell me the words.
But they are your own words.
Try to remember.

From The Man of LaMancha

I remember the event like it was yesterday, even though it was over twenty years ago. I was sitting at the dinner table with my family. I have no idea what we were talking about, but something made me extremely angry, until finally I picked up my dinner plate and threw it across the room against the wall breaking it and scattering the pieces and the food all across the floor and the wall. Luckily I did not hit anyone, but it was a wakeup call for me. I knew then I had to do something about my anger.


I began meeting with a psychologist shortly after that. After two years of therapy I was sitting with my therapist, and I was tired and frustrated with the process. I told her that over the time I had been meeting with her I had learned a lot about where my anger came from and about how to manage that anger so it did not spill over onto my family and others nearly as much. But, I told her, the anger was still there, and it seemed to me that, in a way, continually having to manage that anger actually added to the depth and power of the anger rather than reducing it. I asked her if I would ever get to the place where that anger would subside. Her answer actually shocked me. “No”, she said, “the best you can hope for is to be able to manage the anger better.” My daughter, who is also a clinical psychologist, assured me that this was not the case. Good therapy, she insisted, should really reduce the anger. I get that on some level, but at the time the words of my therapist, confirmed by my own experience, made my daughter’s denial seem hollow. The fact was still true—after two years of therapy I was still living with that anger. It was still driving the way I experienced and lived my life, albeit mitigated externally by my improved ability to manage it. Therapy was not enough. I quit therapy shortly after this discussion.


Interestingly my experience with Christianity followed much the same pattern. Over the years I was in and out of multiple churches, in multiple denominations. Over that time I talked with a number of ministers, church leaders, fellow church members, and even a couple of spiritual directors. None of them seemed to even understand what my struggle was all about.

I was discussing this with the pastor at one of the churches I attended, and finally, out of frustration I blurted out, “Mr. D, you have answers to questions that are not even questions for me, and you have absolutely no answers to the questions I do have.” What I took from that discussion and others like it was essentially the same message I got from my therapist. I was exhorted to manage my anger—my sin, but I should not expect it to dissipate. Unlike with my therapist, my church experience did not offer any real guidance on how to even manage the anger except to say that I should pray, whatever that meant. The message I got was that it really didn’t matter much anyway. If I gave my life to Jesus I would be forgiven and “saved” in the next life. In some of the messages there was a kind of magical option where God would just reach down and transform me, but that never actually happened, and that, I was told, was because my faith was not strong enough. NEVER, in any of the churches I attended or the people in those churches I talked with, was I offered spiritual practices—prayer practices—that might begin to heal that anger. The truth is that, like managing my anger, my church experience over the years has ultimately contributed to my frustration and anger a great deal more than it has ever helped to heal it, but that is a story for another time. It suffices here to say that it was not enough.

A Prayer Of My Own

I ultimately quit looking for answers in church too, though I continued to attend with my wife from time to time. A short time later I began a period of self-study of the spiritual literature I had discovered as a part of my academic studies. From that self-study I began experimenting with various spiritual practices. Those books led me to other material, and over a couple of years I developed a personal practice that worked for me, and the turmoil and anger really did begin to dissipate. It is precisely here that I began to develop a real “prayer of my own”. Though that prayer has it very roots in the depths of the Christian tradition it was neither taught nor supported in any of the many churches I attended. If it was mentioned at all it was criticized as some kind of heresy. That said, it was just these practices that, over time, changed my life dramatically in ways that neither therapy nor my church experience ever even began to touch. That growth and transformation, or what the monastics call “conversion of heart” continues. My wife, both of my daughters, some of my supervisors, and several of my friends have all told me in different ways that I have changed more than anyone they have known. I attribute that “conversion” entirely to my spiritual practice—to my prayer practice.


Photo by Winnie Southworth

As that process of self-study continues I recently read Thomas Moore’s book, A Religion of One’s Own: A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World*. While I would not have had the words to describe it then, I realize now that it was during this time that I actually began to develop “a religion of [my] own”. Moore’s book essentially served to legitimize my struggle and gave me the language to understand it and talk about it. Unfortunately at the time I could only see it as a criticism of and a rebellion against contemporary Christianity. I cannot help but wonder what that struggle to develop my own prayer practice would have been like if I had found the teaching and the support for that part of my journey in even one of the churches I attended. As we will see, this struggle to develop “a religion of one’s own”, will permeate my rethinking of prayer in all of my writing. We will be encouraged to reach beyond the contemporary view of prayer and to think about what prayer really means for each of us personally. What is envisioned here is a “turning around”—a conversion of heart that can transform our lives.

Prayer Practices

All that said, sadly at the time, neither my therapist nor anyone in any of the many churches I attended over the years seemed to even know of these practices, even though they come to us from the very depths of the Christian tradition, and the roots of those practices can be seen clearly in Jesus’ life and teaching.

They also can be found in different forms in almost all major religious traditions. The prayer practices that are outlined here are not new—they are not “new age” as some conservative Christians have tried to claim. The practices come from deep within the Christian tradition. They can be found all thru the writings of the spiritual masters, the saints, the desert fathers and mothers, and the monastic tradition. My quest to connect with that Mysterious Other I call God, to continue my own growth, and to write and teach about the spiritual life begins precisely here. I want to make what I have discovered available to others in understandable language that is not buried in ancient texts. To the extent that I can, I want to be obedient to that quest.

My Quest

This series is about “turning around”. Like all of my writing and teaching, it is about transformation and that “conversion of heart” the monastics speak of so profoundly. In the end it is about prayer as “the work of the spiritual journey”. It is about prayer that includes “turning around” as part of that work. These prayer practices profoundly changed my life and continue to change my life. They can change yours as well if you are open and obedient to them. Sharing that insight is the very essence of my quest.

Yet, at the same time, it seems ironic—maybe even hypocritical, for me to be writing about prayer. How can I presume to have anything useful to say about prayer? How can I presume to teach anyone about prayer? For most of my adult life I have openly criticized much of what has been said (and maybe more often, what has not been said) about prayer in the churches I have attended. As a result, until I began my search for “a prayer of my own” I spent very little time even thinking about prayer, much less actually praying. I pretty much ignored the subject entirely, and if I spoke of it at all it was mostly to offer some criticism of what the churches teach, or do not teach, about prayer. Yet here I sit, hands on the keyboard, typing the first paragraphs of just such a series.

This is a series that I must write if I am to be true and authentic to who I am and who I feel God is calling me to be. My quest grows out of this long process of criticism, study, practice, and growth. Maybe it is my initial struggle with prayer as it was presented to me in the churches I attended, combined with my own struggle, study, practice, and experience that will give these reflections a quality of legitimacy they might otherwise lack. That is my sincere hope. That is my quest. That is my prayer.

My friend and Catholic priest, Fr. J. Patrick Foley put it this way in the forward to my first book:

Richard Southworth is such a man: restless, searching, unsatisfied. His hunger for transcendence – which for the believer is ultimately a hunger for God – has driven him into, and out of, churches, various religious organizations, and activities, leaving him frustrated but still searching. Having been his friend, occasional fellow-traveler, and frequent sounding board for almost thirty years, I have often thought that this search possesses him more than he possesses it – and that very quality is proof enough of its authenticity. “The hound of heaven,” to borrow Francis Thompson’s image, pursues us all, whether we recognize it or not. Wisdom is found in that recognition, and in the desire and willingness to remove whatever obstacles stand in the way of such a pursuit.
Fr. J. Patrick Foley
* Moore, Thomas, A Religion of One’s Own:  A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality In A Secular World (New York: Gotham Books, 2014).
Oct 122013

My wife and my daughter have told me repeatedly that I should be more open and honest about my own beliefs and understanding about Christianity.  While I have always been honest in my writing I have avoided certain controversial subjects for fear that some would be offended.  My daughter specifically suggested that I write a series entitled “What Christianity Gets Wrong”.  There is a real sense of freedom here–a sense of finally being really authentic about something that is very important to me.  I know that many of the points made in this video are things I have said in private again and again.  I know also that these issues have alienated me from the church for most of my adult life.

John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal bishop from Newark, N.J., was interviewed by Keith Morrison on Dateline NBC on August 13, 2006.  In this interviews Spong makes a number of  excellent points about religion in general and Christianity in specific.  It is tempting for me to comment here on each of those points, because I personally think he is dead on with each of them. At some point I may very well do that, but here I think it is best to let Spong speak for himself.


Join the conversation!  I would love to hear your thoughts about any and all of the issues Spong raises, both positive and negative.

Sep 162013

This video was excerpted from a class I taught at Walnut Grove Baptist Church in Mechanicsville, Virginia in the fall of 2012.  It is taken from Session I: The Introduction of the eight session program entitled Developing Our Practice.  In the video I tell the story of how the term “No BS Spirituality” came about, and then talk about the core concepts of No BS Spirituality.

Questions for Reflection:

Reflect on your current spiritual practice:

  1. In what ways does your practice “Quiet the inner turmoil of compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses that typically drive our lives”?  In your time apart?  In your active lives”?
  2. In what ways does your practice “Guide us in the ongoing discovery of who we most deeply are and who we are called to be as unique spiritual persons?”
  3. In what ways does your practice “Facilitate the ongoing incarnation of those discoveries into the reality of your day-to-day active lives”?
  4. In what ways does you practice fail to meet these goals?  Where does it call you to grow in these areas.

Watch, Reflect, Enjoy! Richard



Mar 112013

The story of Gillian Lynne…referred to a psychiatrist for serious school problems who figured out that she, “wasn’t sick”.  She was, “just a dancer.”  He recommended that she go to a dance school.  She went on to join the Royal Ballet Company, form her own musical theater company, and create some of the most successful plays of all time (Cats, Phantom of the Opera) with Andrew Lloyd Weber.

What would have happened to Gillian had she been in school these days?  This story is recounted in  Sir Ken Robinson’s book The Element: How Finding your Passion Changes Everything.  In it, he suggests that Gillian would have received a diagnosis of ADHD and been put on Ritalin or a similar drug.  Here is a video of Robinson telling the story of Gillian.  What do you think?  Is he right about what would most likely happen to such a child in today’s educational system?  What if a particular student’s passion isn’t found so readily?  How do we find a balance between helping students who really need it, excessive pathologizing and squashing their creativity?*

Learning Diagonal


In my book Choosing Authenticity: Religion Is Not Enough I make this observation:

Then one day I was sitting in a college class and the professor** made the following statement:

When a person is denied the right of legitimate self expression, a deep incessant rage develops in them that permeates their entire life.

I remember that statement as if it were yesterday.  It all came together.  The Quest for Authenticity and the anger—the two things that seemed to dominate my life were, in reality, two sides of the same thing.  I was angry because I knew that I was not being the person I was called to be.  I was, in the most basic way, “denied the right of legitimate self expression.”  ***

In my case it was anger that resulted from being “denied the right of legitimate self expression”.  At Gillian’s early age it came out as problems in school and a perceived learning disorder.  Had she been forced to take medication and to deny her authentic self — the dancer that was already blossoming inside herself — it likely would have developed into the “deep incessant rage” my professor spoke of in his lecture.  When she was encouraged to “choose authenticity”, she flourished and even became famous.  But were more “dancers”, whatever that is for each of us, encouraged to be our authentic selves rather than being forced to conform to the expectations of the culture and of our parents I believe sincerely there would be less of that “deep incessant rage”, and as a result less depression, less violence, less addiction, less terrorism, and yes, even less war.


Richard's Book


* From the Blog Learning Diagonal:  Exponential Learning for the Whole Family, 25 Thought-Provoking Thoughts from Books on Learning (#3), February 13, 2013,  (See the Learning Diagonal Blog for other interesting posts on learning).
** Father Adrian van Kaam, CSP, the founder of the Institute Of Formative Spirituality at Duquesne University, circa. 1986.
*** Southworth, Richard N., Choosing Authenticity:  Religion Is Not Enough, (Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, 2011), p. 93-94.

Jan 172013

Making Our Practice Primary

I know what’s wrong with me:  I am not passionate enough.  I am not being aroused and lured into the sheer totality of me, which God desires with infinite desire to fashion out of the undreamed of and undeveloped potentialities of my being; and which Jesus has claimed and demonstrated to be not only realizable but imperative.  I am not completely in tune with the universe, with the universality of being, with Being itself.  If I am alienated, frustrated, and lonely, it is because I am out of touch with the center of things.  If I am out of touch with the center of things, with God, it is because I do not take God with unconditional seriousness; that is to say, I do not allow myself to be ruled and governed by one, pure passion.*

William McNamara, O.C.D. 

The River From The Mountain


I have experienced the profound growth and transformation and conversion of heart that comes from my spiritual practice.  It has changed my life in ways that are difficult to describe.  I know without question what I need to do to deepen my practice.  I know when I listen to my sacred inner voice I discover new and fascinating things about who I am, and who I am called to be by that Mysterious Other I call God.  I know too, that when I am obedient to that sacred inner voice and do the spiritual work to incarnate those discoveries into the details of my active life, the growth and transformation and conversion of heart continues.  I become more authentic and more spiritually mature.

I know all of that with the faith that comes when knowledge, experience, and awesome mystery come together.  I know all of that, and yet, like McNamara, “I am not passionate enough” about it.  “I do not allow myself to be ruled and governed by one, pure passion.”  What is it in me that causes me to pull back from that one, pure passion?  What is it in me that prevents me from making my practice the  primary commitment I long for it to be. There were times when I had all of the “good” excuses that come from the demands of an all too busy life.  Now I am retired.  There is absolutely nothing  preventing me from being consistent with my practice.  There is absolutely nothing insurmountable preventing me from incarnating what I discover in my time apart into the way I live my day-to-day life.  There is absolutely nothing preventing me from approaching my spiritual life with that “unconditional seriousness” and passion McNamara speaks of so powerfully.  Nothing external at least.  The blocks are in me.

There are many good reasons for me to overcome these internal blocks and continue to deepen my own practice and for me to encourage you to begin or to deepen your practice.  Maybe all of those reasons can be summarized into the single statement:  making a serious commitment to consistent spiritual practice will change your life.  It is a gift to you and  to others.

Time Apart
The Gift of Solitude

The dictionary defines solitude as “the state or situation of being alone: she savored her few hours of freedom and solitude”.   If there were no other reasons for making a commitment to taking time apart this “situation of being alone” would be enough for me.  I savor the “freedom and solitude” of my time apart.  I have a book entitled Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There and the title captures what is for me, the first and maybe the most basic gift of the my time apart.  This opportunity to move out of all of the busyness of my active life and just sit there, in and of itself, justifies my commitment to my time apart.  Before there is any centering, reading, meditation, prayer, or contemplation, before there is any spiritual practice at all, there is the gift of solitude—the gift of just being present to ourselves, to the Mysterious Other, or as one monk put it, “being present to what is”.

QuoteThe cultural imperatives of acceptance, success, power, wealth, and pleasure fill our lives with all kinds of demands.  The culture would have us believe that even our pursuit of pleasure must be filled with doing.  We are encouraged to fill our “free time” with television, music, the internet, social networking,  shopping, and travel.  The latest “must have” technology such as multimedia computers, home theater, wide screen television, and smart phones fill our homes, our cars, and our pockets.  Multitasking encourages us to take our work home with us and our entertainment  to work with us.  Even the religious imperatives of belief, ritual, experience, community, service, and values can become just another way for us to fill our “free time” with busyness.  When these things do not come out of that inner solitude they too can become just another way to fill ourselves with sound, and images, and stimulation, or as one religious leader put it, “the illusion of a new or higher quality of emotion that accompanies what is merely a new object of emotion.”.

When we find ourselves alone with nothing to do and with nothing to entertain us we become restless, uncomfortable, and even disoriented.  Even the thought of this silence can become a major block to committing ourselves to taking time apart.  Yet, if we resist the temptation to “just do something” and just “sit there” for a time, the busyness begins to recede, and the culturally generated  need for sound, and images, and stimulation diminishes and we discover the gift of solitude.  The tension in our body begins to subside.  We discover that being alone in silence is a rewarding spiritual practice in its own right.

A few weeks ago the rest of my family went on a trip, and I found myself at home alone for a week.  I am retired so I did not have to go to work.  I had no appointments nor any chores that I had to do.  In the past I would have been apprehensive and uncomfortable thinking of spending a week alone, but I looked forward to the solitude.  My plan was to spend more consistent time apart and to focus on my writing.  What actually happened was a surprise.  When all of the busyness of getting everyone off was done, I found myself “just sitting” and enjoying the silence and the stillness.  I would not even call it prayer or meditation or contemplation.  I just found myself enjoying the quiet and the solitude.  During the week I did spend more time in my practice, and I did spend a lot of time with my writing, and I even spent time doing some chores that were on my to-do list.  But the truth is that over and over again I found myself “just sitting” and enjoying doing absolutely nothing, sometimes thinking and sometimes not.  During the week, tension I did not even know I had, left me.   I relaxed in a way that was deeper than I had experienced before.  That experience was a gift of solitude made possible by my practice.

A Gift of Presence

A Gift of Presence***

I know too that years ago I often missed opportunities to spend special times with my children.  Reflecting on that makes me sad.  I know it had a negative effect on them, and I know I missed some special times with them because I was not centered or paying attention and thus could not be present to them.  The other day, Rachel,  my eighteen month old granddaughter whom I affectionately call “Little Girl”, came into my room with a book.  She held it up and said, “Daddy Dick read!  Daddy Dick read!”  This time, however, I was paying attention.  I picked her up, sat down in the chair I use for my practice, and began to read to her.  She laid her head down on my shoulder and seemed very content.  All of a sudden she started wiggling and squirming like only an eighteen month old can and climbed down out of my lap.  I figured I had lost her, but then she walked over to my bed, put her arms up on the bed and said, “Up! Up!”  I picked her up, laid down on the bed with her, and she tucked her head in the crook of my arm, and I started reading again.  In about five minutes she was sound asleep.  She slept there in the crook of my arm for an hour and a half.  My arm went to sleep.  My body got uncomfortable.  I stayed put.  I found myself just watching her breathe, feeling the little twitches and movements as she slept, and just enjoying her presence.  At times I found myself counting her breaths like I sometimes count my own breath in meditation.  Finally she opened her eyes, looked over at me, frowned for a minute and then smiled one of those big smiles that took over her whole face, and said quietly, “Daddy Dick”.  This time just being there with “Little Girl” was another special gift of solitude made possible by my practice.

These two experiences, and others like them, are powerful reasons for me to reaffirm my commitment to continue and deepen my practice.

Other Topics In Reflection VI:

Freedom from the Turmoil: The Gift of Apatheia
The Discovery: The Gift of Self
The Incarnation: The Gift of Authenticity
The Connection: The Gift of Divine Union
The Science: Considering the Evidence
A Moral and Spiritual Imperative: Our Deepest Calling and Our Greatest Gift


Richard's Book


Excerpted from Southworth, Richard N., Choosing Authenticity:  Religion Is Not Enough, (Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, 2011), p. 182-187.
*McNamara, William, O.C.D., Mystical Passion:  Spirituality for a Bored Society,  (New York:  Paulist Press, 1977), p. 6.
**Photograph by Drexel Rayford
***Photograph by Winnie Southworth

Jan 072013

The Living
Accepting Responsibility for the Way We Live Our Lives

Who is this man?   He is a person who has a great deal of attracting power for those around him.  Those who meet him are fascinated by him and want to know more about him…

An inner freedom flows out from him, giving him an independence which is neither haughty nor aloof, but which enables him to stand above immediate needs and most pressing necessities.  He is moved by what happens around him, but he doesn’t let it oppress or shatter him. He listens attentively, speaks with a self-possessed authority, but doesn’t easily get rushed or excited.*

Henri J. M. Nouwen 

Living In Freedom

Living In Freedom

I am always responsible for both my inner and my outer responses to the people, events and things that make up my life.  Always!  It does not matter what those people did or did not do.  It does not matter how difficult or painful the events are.  It does not matter what things are present or missing from my life.  I am always responsible for my responses, and I always have choices.  Accepting this principle may well be the most difficult aspect of the spiritual life.  It is counter intuitive and counter cultural.  It is even outside of much religious teaching.

All growth and transformation begins with this principle.  It is a hard and difficult truth, but it is a foundational principle in the spiritual life.  If we fail to accept it, real spiritual maturity is not possible.  Real authenticity is not possible.  Without a full acceptance of this principle we will always blame both our inner and our outer response on others or on circumstances beyond our control.  As Nouwen points out, “an inner freedom flows out from [the spiritually mature person] giving him an independence” that “enables him to stand above immediate needs and most pressing necessities”.  True inner freedom only comes to us when we take personal responsibility for our own inner and outer reactions and responses.  Developing this inner freedom is central to spiritual practice, and especially to mature spiritual living.

Living In The Interstice
Bridging the Gap Between the Inner and the Outer

The spiritual life involves a rhythm of discovery and incarnation.  In our time apart we do the spiritual work of discovering our sacred inner being—of discovering who we really are and who we are called to be.  As we move out of our time apart our spiritual work continues as we seek to incarnate those discoveries in the details of our active lives.  As we move back into our time apart we take our joys and disappointments, our successes and our failures with us, seeking guidance, strength, and courage.  As we continue to grow spiritually, our lives move more and more rhythmically through this cycle.

Interstice Diagram

Interstice Diagram

Our lives are made up of a series of events.  As each event unfolds we move from the event itself, to our inner reaction, and then to our outer reaction to the event.  When someone cuts me off in traffic my inner reaction is all too often anger.  This anger drives my outer reaction to curse, drive aggressively, and to give an obscene gesture.  For some,  these types of events  lead to violence, in this case road rage.  When the event is over we carry this anger and rage with us into the next event of our day, making our inner and outer responses even more reactive and volatile.

QuoteSome stress management theory calls us to intervene between our inner reaction and our outer reaction by choosing not to curse, drive aggressively, or give an obscene gesture.  This clearly changes our outward action in a positive way and, at least for some, reduces the stress that we take into the rest of our day.  Yet, at the same time, it can be a kind of inner violence as we repeatedly keep the anger and rage inside of us.  In the end it does not result in the inner freedom that is so central to spiritual maturity.  Our immediate inner reaction of anger and rage is still with us.

Spiritual maturity calls us to intervene earlier, between the event itself and our inner reaction to the event.  In our example, it calls us to intervene between the vehicle cutting us off and our inner reaction of anger and rage.  It is in this interstice—in this  small space between the event and our inner reaction to the event—that true inner freedom resides.  It is in this interstice, that the spiritually mature person strives to live.  But it is also here that we all too often become more and more an outsider, choosing as we must, not to be driven by the  cultural and religious imperatives that guide many people’s lives.  Part of the work of spiritual practice is developing this interstice and our ability to live in that space.

Other Topics In Reflection VI:

Maintaining Attention To What Happens To Us: Developing Self-Presence
Maintaining Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being: Remembering Our Deepest Longings
Maintaining Interstitial Integrity: Being Obedient to Our Life Call
Accepting Responsibility: Choosing Freedom
Examination of Conscience: Being Honest with Ourselves and Moving On
Completing the Rhythm: Returning to Our Time Apart


Richard's Book


Excerpted from Southworth, Richard N., Choosing Authenticity:  Religion Is Not Enough, (Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, 2011), p. 182-187.
* Nouwen, Henri J. M., With Open Hands.  (Notre Dame, Indiana:  Ave Maria Press, 1972), p. 132.

Dec 262012

Developing Our Practice
What We Do In Our Time Apart

The exercises you ask about originated in this way, from the Fathers observing what happened to them when they were in a state of prayer.*

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom 

Praying In Church

Praying In Church

I was giving a talk some time ago about making a commitment to spiritual practice, and one man in the group said, “I am willing to make time for prayer each day, but what do I actually do?”  If we have paid any attention in church at all we have heard many exhortations to pray.  We are told we should pray daily, but we are still left with the question, “what do I actually do” when I sit down to pray.  We are told we should “pray without ceasing”, but what does that even mean in our busy lives.  There are other related questions that can be equally as challenging.  How do we work time apart into our active lives?  And maybe the most mystifying question of all, how do we take our practice into our active lives.  As one person put it, “What are the consequences of prayer?”**  How do we deal with those consequences?  On the rare occasions that these questions are addressed at all, we are often presented with detailed instructions which may or may not work for us personally.  We are often baffled and intimidated when we see others who seem caught up in the particular method, and the method does not work for us.  Is there a way to develop a spiritual practice that will work for each of us personally?

The Sacred Rhythm
aligning Our Lives with the Pulsations of the Universe

There is a sacred rhythm of withdrawal and engagement that is central to spiritual practice.  We withdraw from our active lives and take time apart for our practice.  Then we move back and engage our active lives again, renewed and centered .  Conscious participation in this sacred rhythm keeps us centered in our practice as we move through the various events of our active lives.  It helps us to align our lives with the pulsations of the universe.

This sacred rhythm is a rhythm of discovery and incarnation.  When we withdraw into our time apart we discover who we are in that deepest part of ourselves where the Mysterious Other we call God speaks to us and gives us guidance and support.  We discover how we are called to live our active lives.  As we move back out into our active lives—as we engage again the people, events, and things that make up our lives—we are called to incarnate the discoveries from our time apart into our active lives.  Conscious participation in this sacred rhythm of withdrawal and engagement—of discovery and incarnation—is the very essence of the spiritual life.  Both the  discovery and the incarnation are absolutely necessary if our practice is to lead to the conversion of heart that leads us forward on The Journey Toward Spiritual Maturity and an increasingly authentic life.

It is not enough for us to just schedule time apart, though that is a step in the right direction.  Each of us needs to discover  what will work for us personally.  As Bloom points out, the traditional spiritual practices were developed “from the Fathers observing what happened to them when they were in a state of prayer”.  If we are to implement those practices uniquely in our own lives we are also called to observe what happens to us, both in our time apart and in our active lives.  If we are true to that call, over time we will discover what the sacred rhythm is for each us, and we will more and more align our lives with those pulsations.

Other Topics In Reflection V:

QuoteMaking Sacred Time: Confronting Our Busy Schedules
Making Sacred Space: Creating Our Refuge
Life In Balance: Seeking Consonance
The Practice: Foundational Practices Implemented Uniquely
Discovering Our Unique Path: Observing What Happens To Us
Setting Priorities: Saying No In Order To Say Yes


Richard's Book


Excerpted from Southworth, Richard N., Choosing Authenticity:  Religion Is Not Enough, (Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, 2011), p. 148-152.
* Bloom, Anthony: quoted in, Needleman, Jacob, Lost Christianity:  A Journey of Rediscovery to the Centre of Christian Experience.  (Rockport, MA:  Element, Inc., 1980), p. 37.
** LaFond, Charles. Comment made at a Pre-Lenten Retreat at Christ Church Episcopal, Richmond, Virginia in February 2001.


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