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-five years ago. I was sitting at the dinner table with my family. I have no idea what we were talking about nowthing made me extremely angry. 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 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 as it had. But, I said the anger was still there in some strange 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 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 should really reduce the anger. I got that on some level, but at the time the words of my therapist confirmed my own experience and made my daughter’s denial seem hollow. The fact was 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. It was not enough. I quit therapy.
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, church members, and a couple of spiritual directors. None of them seemed to understand what my struggle was all about.
I was discussing this with a pastor one day and 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 even offer any real guidance except to say that I should pray: pray for WHAT. The message I got was that it really didn’t matter 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 a magical option, where God would just reach down and transform me, but that never happened. I was told my faith was not strong enough. NO ONE in those churches EVER offered spiritual practices—prayer practices—that might begin to heal that anger. The truth is, like managing my anger, my church experience over the years had contributed to my frustration and anger a great deal more than it had ever helped to heal it, but that is a story for another time. It suffices here to say that it was not enough.
I quit looking for answers in church, though I continued to attend with my wife from time to time. A short time later I began a period of self-study using 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. Over a couple of years I developed a personal prayer practice that worked for me. The turmoil and anger began to subside. It is precisely here that I began to develop a real prayer of my own. Though that prayer has its very roots in the depths of the Christian tradition, it was neither taught nor supported in any of the churches I attended. If it was mentioned at all, it was often criticized as some kind of heresy. That said, it was these practices that, over time, changed my life dramatically in ways that neither therapy nor my church experience had ever begun 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 ever known. I attribute that “conversion of heart” entirely to my spiritual practice—to my prayer practice where I can feel the divine presence leading and guiding me.
As that process of self-study and practice continued, I read recently 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 of practice that I 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. At the time, I could only see it as a criticism of and rebellion against contemporary Christianity. I cannot help but wonder what my 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 one of the churches. What if I had discovered these prayer practices much earlier in my life?
As you will see, this struggle to develop “a religion of one’s own”, will permeate my rethinking of prayer in this book. You will be encouraged to reach beyond the contemporary church view of prayer and to think about what prayer really means for you personally. What is envisioned here is a “turning around”—a conversion of heart that can transform your life.
It saddens me now that neither my therapist, nor the modern-day Christians I knew seemed to know of these spiritual practices, even though the roots of them 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. They can be found all through the writings of the spiritual masters, the saints, the desert fathers and mothers, and especially in 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.
This book 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 a book 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 a book 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 even 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 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 book.
Perhaps my initial struggle with prayer as it was presented to me in churches I attended, and the journey that followed will give my reflections a quality of legitimacy with merit. That is my sincere hope. That is my quest. That is my prayer.
My friend and Catholic priest, Fr. 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.