I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia in 1943. Durning my adult life I have lived in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Chesterfield County Virginia, Madison County Virginia, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and now in Hanover County Virginia. I also spent about two years in the Navy in Bremerhaven, Germany.
I have been married for over fifty-seven years and have three children. My oldest daughter, Teresa, lives about four blocks away with her husband and three children. My son, who has downs syndrome, lives with us, and my youngest daughter, Michelle lives about ten miles away.
Photo by Winnie Southworth
Through those years we attended various churches in various demonations and became involved in leadership roles at some. I often found myself in conflict with the churches, it's pastors, and its leadership. While I did find fellowship with individuals and couples in those churches, I almost never felt "at home" in any of them. I had a deep longing for that Mysterious Other we call God, but the churches I attended simply did not address that longing, and most of my friends just did not seem to understand what all of the struggle was about, though some of them tried very hard.
Some friends suggested that I should give up the struggle and accept the more standard path, while a more secular friend suggested that I should give up the religious thing all together and just get on with my life. They were all valid questions, and I could only answer, "Because I simply cannot do that and live." The questions rise up from the very depths of my soul, and they demand answers. Even in the most difficult parts of the journey this quest enlivens me and gives my life meaning, and brings me great satisfaction. I continue on The Great Journey, In Search of Life—In Search of God because I must. I simply must.
Retreat Center Experience
My wife and I resigned our jobs and joined the staff of a non-denominational Christian retreat center where I served as the Administrator and she served as the Food Service Director. In reality all of us served in every capacity from janitor, to cook, to retreat leader. The choice that Winnie and I made to quit our jobs and move our family to the retreat center was an expression of the depth of our individual spiritual longing and our calling to reach out to others on the spiritual journey. I learned much about my own spiritual quest during that time. I learned about spiritual living, living in community, spiritual guidance, and leadership. I also discovered a great deal about my own spiritual journey, and about personal spiritual practice. Much of it was vague and undefined at the time, but many of the things I have learned and experienced since those days have their roots in this time of struggle and growth.
I found much in my academic studies that affirmed and enhanced my spiritual quest.
In undergraduate school I was blessed with a religious studies professor who seemed to understand my quest and often pointed me to just the right book or just the right research topic before I even understood what the current questions were. I never quite knew what tradition he was committed to, but that was one of the things that made him such a gifted guide. He helped me articulate my own questions, and encouraged me to seek my own answers, but he also encouraged me to ground those answers in careful study and reflection. As I continue to work on my writing I strive to present the same open and accepting guidance I respected so strongly in this man. This program also played an important role in my journey. Over the years I had quit school, changed programs, and taken courses in various departments, and I was never quite at home in any of them. In developing this program I discovered that my interests really did cut across normal topical lines. I was fascinated by the interconnectedness of religion, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and the administration of justice. This program let me explore that interconnectedness in depth. One of the most powerful discoveries was when I realized that all of these disciplines were looking at many of the same issues and questions. They were just looking through different perspectives. This insight confirmed my unspoken intuitive insight that initially kept me searching from discipline to discipline. That interest in the interconnectedness of the various spiritual and wisdom traditions continues in my current study, experience, and teaching.
My studies at the Institute of Formative Spirituality built on that foundation. There were too many blessings in my year at the Institute to cover here, but two things stand out. One of the central themes of Formation Science was what was known as "the metalanguage," a language developed by Fr. Adrian van Kaam, C.S.Sp., the founder of the Institute. The language attempted to cut across religious traditions and secular traditions alike to articulate a "Foundational Spirituality, that touched something very deep in my own quest. Maybe even more important to my spiritual quest, I was also touched very deeply by my studies of the writings of the desert fathers, saints, and mystics. My own struggle was confirmed at the deepest level when I discovered these holy people struggling with many of the same questions and issues that marked my own quest, and often experienced the same kinds of pain and doubts.
I will comment later on some of the effects this program had on my spiritual journey, but one thing bears mention here. From the day I walked into the first class I felt at home with this program. It was said that most people who came to the institute to study either took serious issue with the theory or did not see anything unique in it for at least the first semester, until the real meaning would begin to reveal itself. From the very beginning my inner response was, "Yes! This is what I have been trying to say all of my life." Of course I questioned some theories and ideas, but that sense of "Yes!" continued throughout the year and a half I spent there.
As I was finishing the master's program I learned that I had been accepted into the doctoral program, and I really wanted to continue my studies. But there were a number of family and financial issues that made that a difficult decision. In my final summer semester I wrote a paper about spiritual longing in which I applied the theory I was learning to the question of whether I should continue my studies or move back home and take care of the family issues. The writing process for that paper was very long and very painful, but the answer was very clear. Beyond the longing I had to continue my studies there was something much deeper. It was a clear call to live the spiritual life that I was learning and experiencing. Responding to that deeper calling, there was a clear imperative to return home and take care of family responsibilities.
The book, Lost Christianity: A Journey of Rediscovery to the Centre of Christian Experience, by Jacob Needleman, is clearly the single most important book in my spiritual quest. It articulates my deepest questions about the spiritual life, and it at least points to some of the answers. As I have read it multiple times, studied it, and reflected on it, I have been led into the world of monks, monasteries, contemplation, prayer, asceticism, and conversion of heart. From there I have begun to develop my own spiritual practice, and my own rule of life. In that practice I have found that Mysterious Other I call God.
I have also experienced the inner conversion of heart that is so central to the monastic experience, and that is such a powerful longing for all on the spiritual journey. Much of the anger and rage that had often filled my life is now gone or at least muted. It is often replaced by simple prayers, and by graced responses that more often lead to healing, to growth in my relationships, to changes in my environment, and especially in changes in the way others respond to me. That has been confirmed spontaneously by my family, and sometimes even by strangers. This growing freedom from the tyranny of emotional turmoil may be the single greatest gift of the spiritual journey. More and more I have begun to see my life, including the pain and suffering it sometimes brings, as an opportunity to strengthen my spiritual practice. I still struggle with life, with my relationships, with the church, and even with God, but that struggle itself is part of the quest, and it brings its own blessing and joy. I still find myself on The Great Journey, In Search of Life—In Search of God.
Yet I left the Institute still filled with questions and deep inner conflicts that just seemed to have no answers. After we moved back to the Richmond area I went to church with my wife, but had very little spiritual practice beyond that. I eventually became disillusioned with church and just stopped going. Then in March of 1997, I picked up a book I had studied at the Institute and read it again. Some would argue that picking up this particular book was chance, while others would argue that it was grace. Whichever it was, it was mixed with some careful thought on my part based on my own personal experience and study. I am not at all sure I see the distinctions.
What I do know is that this event, as non-descript as it seemed, marked a major turning point in my spiritual journey. It was precisely here that I made a conscious decision that, even if I could not find the answers I sought in the church, I still had to respond to the deep inner spiritual longing I experienced. You might say that it was here that I gave myself permission to seek my own path, and maybe more importantly, to begin to trust that Sacred Inner Voice that at times spoke so clearly and so powerfully.
Chasing the Bad Guys
As a friend pointed out, much of my life has been spent "looking for the bad guys." He wanted to know about the effect that has had on my spiritual journey. "Looking for the bad guys," has been a recurring part of my journey, and has in fact shown up at unexpected times and in places where it was unrelated to my employment. "Looking for the bad guys" is simply a particular way of holding people accountable for their actions and for the effects their actions have on themselves and the people, events, and things in their life. The methods are significantly different, but in a real sense spiritual guidance involves much the same task. The gifted guide helps us to discover our unique life call and then holds us accountable for being true to that call. Much of what that entails is "looking for the bad guys" in the sense of searching for the thoughts, emotions, impulses, and actions that both hurt others and block us from becoming who we are called to be as unique spiritual people. This recurring theme in my journey has given me a deep commitment to being honest with myself about where I need to grow, and to holding myself accountable for the effect the way I live my life affects myself and others. Much of what I write and teach is designed to encourage you to "go and do likewise." As a guide I am likely to raise questions that will call you to go "looking for the bad guys."
Whatever arrests us invites us to meditation. I am arrested as I play a Bach partite on the piano, or when I come across a Lucas Cranach painting of Venus or when I stand on a wet beach with a camera in hand, or when I'm inviting the muse to give me a line to write.
I wonder if being arrested by the police has a relation to this religious meditation, and if the monk and the trespasser have something in common.*
I retired in March of 2005, and for a while I was just “living my life” as the saying goes. Then I wrote my first book Choosing Authenticity: Religion Is Not Enough which took a couple of years, and then I started my second book Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of my own. About halfway thru that I had a stroke and then several what I call after stroke events. During that time I was in and out of the hospital and going to doctors and physical therapy for a couple of years. After that I went thru a period of having so energy and so interest in doing much of anything. Then I had my awakening experience in March of 2020. That point marks the beginning of my growth and healing and brings me here.