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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).
Jul 122015
Look for your own.  Do not do what someone else could do as well as you.  Do not say or write what someone else could say or write as well as you.  Care for nothing in yourself but what you feel exists nowhere else, and out of yourself create impatiently, or patiently the most irreplacable of beings.*
Andre Gide

A number of years ago my daughter gave me a framed copy of this quote for my birthday.  It hangs on the wall next to the closet in my bedroom where I can see it every day when I am dressing, at least when I am paying attention.  It speaks to something very deep in me.  I long to become that irreplaceable of beings, or at least to be able to see myself growing in that direction.  I ponder that sometimes, especially when I write. Recently as I was reading Thomas Moore’s A Religion of One’s Own,** I realized that the Gide quote should apply to my religion as well.  To “create impatiently or patiently the most irreplaceable of beings”, required that my religion should be just as personal and should exist “nowhere else”.  Just following traditional beliefs and practices is not enough.  The truth is that I cannot follow that traditional approach authentically anyway.  This calling to become an “irreplaceable of beings” and to develop a religion of one’s own ultimately applies to each one of us, and it applies to each of our approach to our religion.

My relationship with organized religion has been a classic approach avoidance conflict.  On one hand I have always had a very strong sense of calling to religion and to spirituality.  I somehow believed this calling could only be answered through traditional religion–in my case through traditional Christianity–and specifically through a church.  Yet what I found in the many churches I attended never really connected with that calling or the way I experienced and lived my life. It never seemed to relate to my personal spiritual journey in any meaningful way.  I know that it works for some people, but try as I might I could not accept the current version of Christianity as I found it in the churches I attended.  It simply was never near enough, It always left me cold and feeling like an outsider, so eventually I would leave.  I could not see any other option, and yet the calling kept me searching.***


Photo by Brian Hill Sensai at Rivercity Aikido

The spiritual journey is often a very deliberate and a very slow process.  Sometimes real spiritual growth can only be seen in retrospect, by looking back, sometimes over many years.  But, sometimes that seemingly plodding journey is interrupted by what some have called “waking up”.  Some event in our life causes us to see our life radically differently and to “turn around” and head in a new direction.   For me, reading Thomas Moore’s book was just such a life changing event.  This book will definitely go on my short list of the most important books I have read on this journey.  Other books have been important, and I know that they helped bring me to where I am.    Like the few other books on my list of favorites this book is changing my whole approach to my spiritual journey in general and to my relationship to organized religion in specific.  As Moore put it:  “I was born with the themes of this book buried like seeds in my heart.” ****

Maybe the greatest insight is the realization that I am not somehow required by that Mysterious Other I call God to accept what I have found in any of the churches I attended, or in any particular tradition for the matter.  I think I knew that in a deep place inside of me, but I simply could not let myself live it or even acknowledge it.  This book gave me permission to let go of the demand that I conform to the beliefs and practices of contemporary Christianity and actually develop “A Religion of My Own”. It allowed me to “wake up” and head in a new direction.

I cannot tell you how important this realization is for me.  In many ways I already had a religion of my own, but admitting this to others—being open about it—is a kind of “coming out” for me.  It requires me to rethink just about everything I know and believe.  It will require me to be clear about what I really do know and believe, and about a spiritual practice of my own, without the baggage of trying to conform to some religious tradition, or maybe even more importantly, without always just reacting negatively to the more traditional approach.  There is a freedom in that which goes deeper than I have ever experienced before.  I can really listen to that still small voice inside of me and move toward becoming the person I am called to be.

There needs to be a caution here.  Two of my best friends, one a Baptist minister and one a Catholic priest, have separately cautioned me about going it alone.  Moore speaks to that in his book as well.  I understand their concerns.  The examples of people who have gone it alone on the spiritual journey and gone astray are legion.  Staying grounded is even more critical when developing “a religion of one’s own”.  Yet it is also crucial not to just follow the herd.  I plan to take that balance very seriously as I follow this call.  More about this in future posts.

I want to emphasize here that it is not necessary for us to leave or reject our current tradition in order to develop a religion of one’s own.  It is too much a part of us to do that.  The critical thing is for us to reflect seriously on our religious beliefs and practices and be clear in ourselves what we believe personally and what practices actually work for us.  We need to be true to that still small voice within where God speaks to us and gives us guidance and strength and courage.  More about this in future posts.

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection,***** Brené Brown makes an important distinction between being yourself and fitting in. She points out that our efforts to fit in—to be accepted by others—all too often prevents us from really living an authentic life—from really being the person we are called to be, and in the end, from really connecting with others.  I know without a doubt that this has been a major issue in my relationship with the churches I have attended and the people in those churches.

Maybe the hardest part of this journey will be owning up to this new “Religion of My Own”.  It begins right here with this blog post.  The real test will be whether I can own up to it without being defensive the next time I show up at church gathering.  All of that said, developing this “religion of my own” is also exciting and challenging.  I look forward to this new stage in my journey.

Question for Reflection
Join the conversation.  Share your thoughts and experiences

  1. Are you consciously making your own choices about your religion or are you accepting blindly the beliefs and practices of your religious tradition?
  2. Are you rejecting those beliefs and practices just as blindly?
  3. Have you developed “a religion of one’s own” within or outside of your religious tradition?
  4. Do you feel called to develop a religion of your own?
** Moore, Thomas, A Religion of One’s Own:  A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World, (New York: Penguin Group, 2014), Title

*** For a more detailed account of my journey see the Introduction to my book, Choosing Authenticity:  Religion Is Not Enough.  For more information about the book visit my website at

**** Moore, Thomas, A Religion of One’s Own:  A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World, (New York: Penguin Group, 2014), Preface, Line 1.

***** Brown, Brené, Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, (Hazelden Publishing, 2010), Title


Recommended Books:

Jun 172015

I have not posted anything here for about six months.  There are a lot of “reasons” behind that.  I had rotator cuff surgery back in December.  It went well overall, but for a while it affected my ability to focus.  For a time I was on pain medications.  Much of my time was taken up with daily physical therapy, sometimes at the Physical Therapy facility and often at home.  There was also some kind of emotional thing that went with it that made it difficult to concentrate.  Most of that is over now, and in the end all went well.  I also have not done much writing on my book during that time either. At first blush all of this seems more like excuses than reasons for not taking care of my writing which is extremely important to me.


Photo by Drexel Rayford

All of that said, my spiritual life has not been on hold during this time.  Some old and very deep questions were churning inside of me.  After a number of years of significant personal growth I have felt stuck—called profoundly to go deeper without the insight about where to go or how to even discern what the call was really about.  One of the major question in all of this had to do with my relationship with organized religion in general, and church in specific, an issue which has plagued me throughout my spiritual journey.

I was also stuck in my writing in a way that made it impossible for me to continue.  It was more than what we writers call “writers block”.  I read some of what I had written over and over again.  On one level it seemed to say what I wanted to say, but something important was blatantly missing, and I was unable to discern what that was really.  I knew that it had to do with the questions about my spiritual life and my relationship with church, but I had no idea what was really missing.

All of this together left me with what a number of writers have called a “dark night of the soul”.  I experienced all kinds of feelings and emotions.  Sometimes lonely and bored.  Sometimes tired, frustrated, and angry.  Sometimes blaming it on family and friends, especially my wife causing our relationship to suffer  My practice was reduced to what I called maintenance mode.  It kept me more or less in check, but it didn’t motivate me hardly at all.  It has been a painful time on my journey.

I read several books during this time, two of which bear mention here.  The first is The Power of Now:  A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle, and the second one is A Religion of One’s Own:  A Guide to Creating A Personal Spirituality In A Secular World by Thomas Moore.  Both of these books address those major issues and struggles in my own spiritual journey in powerful ways.  They showed up one after another at just the right time.  They are life changing events for me.  They will require much study, reflection, growth for me going forward.  They address both my sense of being stuck and the missing link in my writing.  I know that I will look back on this time as a major marker on my spiritual journey.  I am excited about my journey for the first time in a long time.  There is much to do, and I am ready to get on with my journey and with my writing.

Stay tuned for my next post.



Feb 102014

Why Do We Pray

To Be Transformed

Because We Must

The Call To Prayer

It seems that the simplest answer to the question “Why do we pray?” is the most profound.  We pray simply  “because we must”.  A still small voice inside of us calls to us, and prayer is the only meaningful response. We must listen, and we must respond. We pray because we are responding to that sacred inner voice deep inside of us.  We can run from that voice.  We can deny its sacredness.  We can even deny it’s existence entirely, or we can settle for some psychological explanation. The call is still there, waiting for us, pressing us, calling to us, demanding a response from us, rising up in us when we least expect it and when we least desire it. Left unattended to, this inner calling imposes itself on us in myriad ways, some positive and some negative, some inward and some outward. In one way or another we all respond. It is ultimately our choice whether our response or lack thereof leads to growth and service or to deformation and violence. Listening to this sacred inner voice and living our lives in response to that voice is the very essence of what prayer and spirituality are all about. It is what all true religion is all about. It is what being fully human and fully alive is all about. Choosing our response to this inner call and being obedient to it will determine the very direction and the quality of our life. Choosing to follow that voice intentionally is ultimately what true “conversion” is all about.

This calling manifests itself in our lives in different ways. Maybe the most obvious way is through an experience of awe and wonder. We look up at the night sky on a clear night and we see thousands upon thousands of stars. We realize the vast amazing wonder and mystery of the universe. We sense with amazement our tiny but wondrous place in it. We look into the face of an infant and realize with awe that it is a part of us and yet it is somehow unique from every other being in this vast universe. We are awestruck wondering what this tiny writhing potential might become. In the face of these and a thousand other wonders, questions rise up in us, sometimes just perceptibly and sometimes powerfully,  and they call to us. Where does it all come from? What does it all mean? Where do I fit into the vastness of this great universe? What does my life really mean? Who am I called to be? How am I called to live my unique life? How do I know? How is it even possible to know? Even if I knew, how is it possible to actually become that in a world that has its own demands for our lives? How do I connect with that “something” that is behind it all—that Mysterious Other we call God? For some these questions rise up in a specifically Christian context. For others they rise up in more secular terms, or in the language and symbols of other religious traditions. However they are phrased, these questions call to us profoundly, and the only satisfactory answer is prayer. Ultimately the only satisfactory  answer is to sit quietly in the face of the awesomeness of it all and listen. In that moment prayer is born in us.

QuoteThis calling can also manifest itself through an experience of suffering or loss. We face the death of a loved one, or we face serious illness, or we face our own impending death. We lose our job, our home, or a family member or close friend commits suicide, or becomes involved in drugs or alcohol. Our spouse tells us they want a divorce. We experience some kind of physical or emotional abuse. The specific examples are legion, but whatever the event is, it leaves us torn apart inside. We begin to question the very foundations of our lives. We no longer see the world as a safe place for us.  Sometimes we just sense that our lives are being wasted, that time is just passing us by, and that time can never be recovered. Just as an experience of awe can lead us to ask those seemingly unanswerable questions, an experience of suffering or loss or aimlessness can raise those same questions, albeit in a different form. Where does this suffering come from? Why is this happening to me now? What did I do wrong? How am I called to live my unique life in the face of these painful events? Even if I knew, how is it possible to live that in the face of these realities? How can that reality, if in fact there is a Mysterious Other, allow all of the pain and suffering that I see all around me to happen? Again, ultimately the only satisfactory answer is to sit quietly in the face of this pain and suffering and listen— just be present—and in that moment, when we finally sit quietly and listen, prayer is born.

Yet, if we are perceptive, if we are paying attention, if at some point we wake up from the sleep of our ordinary life, this calling can simply rise up in us for no apparent reason at all. There may be no particular experience of awe or wonder. No unusual experience of suffering or loss. Nothing dramatic at all. This calling can just rise up inside of us uninvited, and even unwanted. The questions themselves call to us in the very depths of our soul and demand answers, or at least they demand that we struggle with them. Again, prayer is born in all of its own awesomeness, wonder, and yes, suffering.

Yet this calling, left unacknowledged and unattended, can also manifest itself in all kinds of destructive ways. Left unattended to, this calling leads us to restlessness and boredom,  anger and aggressiveness and to violence, addiction and all manner of other anti-social and destructive behavior. Adrian van Kaam rightly pointed out that:

When a person is denied the right of legitimate self-expression a deep inner rage develops in them which can permeate their life.*

It is that sacred inner voice that reveals to us who we are and who we are called to be. To the extent that we fail to listen and respond to that inner voice we deny ourselves even the possibility of that “legitimate self-expression” van Kaam speaks of so profoundly and opens us to that resulting incessant rage in all of its various expressions. That rage may raise up in different ways in each of us, but rise up it will. In one way or another that inner voice will be “heard”. In its mildest forms it can show itself as restlessness, dissatisfaction and boredom. In its extreme it can result in suicide and violence, including such things as mass killings and war. If we “wake up” at some point and listen to that rage in all of its various forms, prayer can be born here as well.


Photo by Winnie Southworth

Just as the questions can rise up in us in different terms and symbols, prayer, wherever and however it is born in us, will express itself in different forms, in different traditions, in different symbols, and in different languages. It may find its expression in specifically Christian terms, but it also may find its expression in terms and symbols from other religious traditions such as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or even in secular terms that we do not normally think of as prayer at all. That said there are foundational principles that cut across these different traditions that, if followed, will lead us to live more authentic and consonant lives. We will speak of several of these foundational principles in this volume. If those foundational principles are not followed, “prayer” itself can lead us to dissonance and all kinds of destructive and violent behavior as well. We have to look no further than the seemingly endless violent acts preformed by people who believed that they were led by God.

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

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

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

Questions for Reflection

  1. In what ways do I sense that my life is or is not authentic? In what ways do I sense that I am “denied the right of legitimate self-expression”? In what ways do I feel called to grow and change?
  2. Do I currently pray? Why? Why not? Describe my current prayer practice.
  3. Am I aware of an inner voice that calls me to pray or to deepen my prayer life? When I pray do I listen for or expect a response? What would that response be like?
  4. Have I had an experience of awe and wonder? Describe that experience in detail. What was my reaction? What questions arose in me as a result of that experience? What was my response?
  5. Have I had an experience of suffering or loss? Describe that experience in detail. What was my reaction. What questions arose in me as a result of that experience? What was my response?
  6. Have I had deep questions about the Mysterious Other I call God, about the universe, about life, and/or about my own life and calling rise up in me? Describe the experience. Describe the Questions. Describe my response.
  7. What negative compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses tend to drive my day-to-day life? What destructive habits prevent me from living my life fully and authentically? Consider such things as anger, addictions, and violent behavior. Describe these issues in detail. What are the roots of that behavior?

Richard’s Answer to Question 4:

My first experience of real prayer clearly began with experiences of awe and wonder on evening walks on a golf course near our home. As I have written elsewhere:

… we lived in a subdivision bordering on a golf course. Several times a week I would take long walks on the golf course at night. I would often stand on a knoll looking over the golf course and the many lights and buildings beyond. I would see the lights from houses and wonder what the people were like and what they were doing. I would also listen to the sounds of the traffic in the distance and wonder where people were going in such a frenzy. Periodically I would hear sirens and air horns from emergency vehicles and wonder what the emergency might be, who was in trouble, sick, or hurt. More than any of that though, I would look up into the night sky at the moon and the stars and the clouds and contemplate the awesomeness of this vast universe and my small place in it. It was here that I was absolutely certain of the presence of a Mysterious Other I called God in this universe. It was also here that I was just as certain of my own relationship, however tenuous it seemed at times, with this Mysterious Other. It was here that I knew without a doubt that I must continue on this quest.**

Clearly true prayer was born for me on these walks. It would not be a stretch to say that my conscious spiritual journey really began here, standing quietly on a knoll looking out at the world and the universe. At the time I could not have recognized that fact, but it was in those quiet walks that I really began to seek answers to the profound questions that call us to prayer. It has taken years of reading, study, and practice to develop, but it clearly began on that knoll in the quiet of the evening as I stared out at the wonder and awesomeness of this life, this world, this universe—and yes, of this Mysterious Other I call God.


Comment made in a class by 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. 6. See more at: p. 6

Feb 072014

Section I

Why Do We Pray

To Be Transformed


Photo by Winnie Southworth

Page Divider

Praying is no easy matter. It demands a relationship in which you allow the other to enter into the very center of your person, allow him to speak there, allow him to touch the sensitive core of your being, and allow him to see so much that you would rather leave in darkness. And when do you really want to do that? Perhaps you would let the other come across the threshold to say something, to touch something, but to let him into that place where you life gets its form, that is dangerous and calls for defense.*

Henri J. M. Nouwen

Nouwen is right. Praying is no easy matter. When we look at prayer really seriously all of the easy answers to the question “why do we pray” take on a different meaning. In moments of silence, when we stop talking and listen, that Mysterious Other we call God pursues us even if, or maybe especially if ,we deny its existence. Deep within us a still small voice calls to us—calls us to growth and transformation and conversion of heart. No matter where we are on the journey that voice calls to us. If we pray that voice will call us to go ever deeper. If we don’t pray it will call us to begin. No matter where we are—no matter how many verbal prayers we say or if we say any at all that voice will also call us to be silent and listen, and it will call us to take what we hear and incarnate it into the way we actually live our active lives. It will call us to live more and more authentic lives—to become the person we are created and called to be. It will call us to go deeper. It will call us to be transformed, again and again.

In the following sections we will talk about different aspects of prayer.  We will look in-depth at Centering, Reading, Meditation, Verbal Prayer, Contemplation, and Living.  Before we dive into those difficult but important topics I want us to look at an often ignored topic: Why do we pray?


Nouwen, Henri J. M., With Open Hands (Notre Dame, Indiana, Ava Maria Press, 1972), p. 12.

Dec 062013

My last post entitled Turning Around | About This Endeavor (8), is the last section of About This Endeavor, at least for now.  There is likely to be a couple of additions after the book is finished.

This completes what is called the “Front Matter”.  The next post will come from the actual introduction to the book and is tentatively titled Introduction: Why Do We Pray?  Now the real work of writing this book begins.

At the same time I hope that the material will be much more interesting and challenging.  For those of you who have been following this project, I hope that you will continue as I get into the heart of what this book is all about.  If you are new to this work, I am blogging the new book I am writing.  The working title is Turning Around: The Work of the Spiritual Journey.  You can read the previous posts on my blog at  You can follow this work by signing up for email notifications.  Click on the black “Follow” button in the bottom right of the screen and enter your email address, and you will be notified by email whenever I post something new.  I also hope that you will join the conversation by adding your comments and suggestions to each post.  I take your comments really seriously, and I edit the content when appropriate.  By adding your thoughts, concerns, and suggestions you can become a real part of my writing process.

So that you have some idea of where we are headed with the Introduction, what follows is a tentative outline of the nine sections of the chapter.  For me, and I think most writers, a list like this is always tentative, and could very well change as the writing process proceeds.  As I read somewhere, “How can I know what I want to say until I have seen what I have written”.

Opening Comments
Why Do We Pray

Opening To the Divine Mystery
Discovering who God Is for Us — Really!

Praise, Adoration, Communion, Conversation, Petition, Penance, and Forgiveness

Quieting Our Inner Turmoil

Seeking Guidance, Strength, and Courage

Discovering Who We Are And Who We Are Called To Be

Becoming Authentic and Spiritually Mature

 Divine Union
Praying Without Ceasing

Transmitting the Teaching by the Way We Live Our Lives

Dec 062013

About This Endeavor

Laying the Groundwork

Second In A Series

Looking Back and Looking Forward

This book is the second in a series entitled No BS Spirituality:  The Journey Toward Spiritual Maturity,

Volume One in this series is Choosing Authenticity:  Religion Is Not Enough which was published in March of 2011.  To learn more about this book go to

Who knows where that sacred inner voice will lead in the future.  I have long ago given up believing that I can know that in advance.

Dec 032013

About This Endeavor

Laying the Groundwork

Approaching This Material

A Study Guide

The reflections in this book are intended as material for your own personal spiritual practice,  to facilitate your own personal growth and conversion of heart.  They are designed for what I have come to call The Practice which involves centering, reading, meditation, prayer, contemplation, and action.  These practices will be explored  in depth throughout the book, but as a beginning consider these guidelines.

Centering:  Take a few moments to mark the transition into your time apart.  Say a prayer, read a short passage, and sit in silence for a time.

Reading:  Focus on the text and skip over the questions.  First read the reflection as a whole, and then consider each section individually.  You can return to each section by focusing on each of the different questions.

Meditation: Choose one of the questions that speaks to you and use analysis and reason to apply the question to your own journey.

Prayer:   In the prayer time seek guidance, strength, and courage for your journey,

Contemplation:  Be silent and open and listen for that sacred inner voice that calls you to growth and conversion of heart and authenticity.

Action:  Consider how what you have discovered in your time apart can be incarnated into your active life.

As you work your way through this volume pay careful attention to the words.  Meditate on them and listen for a response from that sacred inner voice.  When a word, a phrase, or an idea speaks to you stop, read it again, and be silent and let it sink in.

Words are only one way to communicate.  It is said that “a picture is worth a thousand words”, and that may be especially true when we try to communicate the deeper aspects of the spiritual journey.  I can share with you in many words about that deep inner longing I feel for that Mysterious Other I call God, but in the end there is something in that longing that the words can never capture.  Yet, when I see that picture of me standing on the mountaintop in Alaska, gazing out into the distance, I am reminded of something deeper; something more profound.  I have no words for that.  It is my sincere desire that the pictures help to communicate that something deeper that the words in this volume can never quite express.  Meditate on them and listen for a response from that sacred inner voice.  Pay close attention to the pictures as well.  Stop a while on each picture and give it whatever time it needs to speak to you of that something deeper; that something that is beyond words.  Let the pictures speak what the words can never quite capture.  Listen here too for that sacred inner voice that calls you forth on The Journey Toward Spiritual Maturity.

Nov 272013

About This Endeavor

Laying the Groundwork

Theory and Practice

Intellectually Sound and Practically Helpful

What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know…The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do …What good would it do me to be able to explain the meaning of Christianity if it had no deeper significance for me and for my life?  [Emphasis in original]

Soren Kierkegaard

Theory and practice are both crucial to the spiritual life.  One without the other is not enough.  It is precisely here that I find the very root of my struggle with contemporary Christianity as I experienced it.  Like Kierkegaard, I know that it is not enough for me to have an intellectual understanding of Christianity, or of religion, or of spirituality.  It is not enough to understand the theory of spiritual growth and conversion of heart, or to have a vision of what spiritual maturity is.  All of that is important, but it is not enough.  I need to know and experience what that means “for me and for my life”.  Even more importantly, I need to know and experience the spiritual practices that will facilitate that conversion of heart, and those practices need to actually move me toward that spiritual maturity, not just in my time apart, but in the nitty-gritty details of my active life.  Said in different terms, No BS Spirituality needs to be both intellectually sound and practically helpful.  Anything short of that is not enough.

It is my sincere desire that this book, and all of my writing and my teaching, reach toward those goals.


*  Kierkegaard, Soren, A Kierkegaard Anthology, Edited by Robert Bretail.  (Princeton, NJ., Princeton University Press. 1946, p. 4-5.  Quoted in Farnham, Susanne G., Joseph P. Gill, R. Taylor McLean, and Susan M. Ward, Listening Hearts:  Discerning Call in Community.  (Harrisburg, PA., Moorehouse Publishing, 1977), p.3.

Nov 102013

About This Endeavor

Laying the Groundwork

No BS Spirituality for the Rest of Us


I have written more about No BS Spirituality for the rest of us elsewhere.*  Here I simply want to define the term so  you will have at least an understanding of the basic underlying principles behind this volume.

No BS Spirituality is spirituality that:

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

The Rest of Us

  • Anyone who is tipping about the periphery of the undiscovered country of the deeper spiritual journey.**

Each of the three principles are critical to valid spiritual practice, but no one or two of them are enough.  Until we quiet our inner turmoil we cannot even begin to hear that sacred inner voice that calls to us so profoundly.  Until we begin to discover our sacred inner being we cannot even begin to know how we are called to live our lives, or how we are called to grow and change.  Until we can actually incarnate what we hear from that inner voice into the way we experience and live our daily lives our spiritual practice will never really change us.  When our practice begins to include all three—when it begins to quiet our inner turmoil, when it begins to lead us to the discovery of who we really are and who we are called to be, and when it facilitates the incarnation of those discoveries,—then, and only then, will we begin the lifelong process of Turning Around—of what the monastics call conversion of heart.

If these principles are not present in our current spiritual practice, and if the conversion of heart is not happening for us in the nitty-gritty way we experience our day-to-day lives, then we need to do the often difficult and sometimes painful spiritual work necessary to deepen our practice and to assure that all three of these principles are given the attention they need.  What I am advocating here is an approach to spirituality that will change us profoundly, and that will powerfully move us ever forward on the Journey Toward Spiritual Maturity.  This journey is neither easy nor simple.  It is not something that is done to us or for us by that Mysterious Other we call God.  It requires a real commitment of time and effort on our part to open ourselves to the guidance, strength, and courage that comes from that Mysterious Other.  It is a series of conscious choices we have to make every day.  It requires much study and practice and trial and error, and it is a lifelong journey.

No BS Spirituality also requires a willingness to look deeply and seriously at all aspects of our lives, including the compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses that typically drive our lives.  Over and over again it will require us to let go of things we consider a part of who we are as a person—of things that ultimately are ego driven.  Richard Rohr is reported to have put it this way:

Do not expect people to rush to a practice the ultimate goal of which is to destroy the ego.

Destroy is a strong word here, but Rohr’s point is valid.  Taking a serious “No BS” approach to our spiritual life will in fact change us in ways we can only imagine, and in the process it will again and again require us to let go of our ego driven responses to the people, events, and things in our lives.

These principles awaken us from distraction, denial, and deep sleep.  But that awakening is ultimately extremely rewarding as we discover who we are called to be, and as the way we experience and live our lives becomes more and more an authentic expression of that discovery.

An actual transformed life is the real indicator of spiritual growth and spiritual maturity, not just right belief, church attendance, committee membership, or involvement in charitable causes, as good as those things may be.  That transformation is the very essence of the spiritual life—The Work of the Spiritual Journey.  That is what this book, and all that I write and teach, is about.


*  Southworth, Richard N., Choosing Authenticity: Religion Is Not Enough. (Richmond, VA: CreateSpace, 2011), p. 52-54 et. al.
** Taken from an email message from my friend Drexel Rayford, PhD.


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