12 principles for living a rich spiritual life

April 14, 2023

University News

The Rev. David Burhans left an indelible impact on countless lives. Scott Allison, psychology and leadership studies professor, culled 12 principles that he lived by and cultivated in those he met. They come from Allison’s experiences with Burhans and his own writings.

  1. Look at the world with a sense of wonder and awe. “Looking back over more than seven decades,” he wrote, “mindfulness and wonder capture the essence of my spiritual and professional journey.” David’s ministry was “an exercise in looking, listening and instruction.”
  2. We are called to answer three important spiritual questions. Who am I? Why am I here? What difference can I make?” David made these three questions the major focus for the University Chaplaincy, and he believed that “every well-educated person is expected to consider” the meat and marrow of these questions.
  3. We find a safe and welcoming place to discuss life’s meaning and purpose. Thanks to David, and his successors including current Chaplain Craig Kocher, the Office of the Chaplaincy provides opportunities for members of the Richmond community to enhance their spiritual, emotional, and social well-being within a welcoming inter-religious context.
  4. A loving Higher Power guides us on the journey toward becoming our best selves. David wrote: “I felt strongly that I was on an educational pilgrimage with the students, on a professional journey of personal growth with faculty, staff and administrators, on a daily, demanding sojourn with University families like my own who welcomed support and encouragement.”
  5. We engage in practices that improve our conscious contact with God. David often shared personal “experiences of what I can only describe as divine encounters or intimations of the Holy — moments of profound gratitude, insight, guidance, wonder upon wonder.”
  6. We remember that gratitude, compassion, and humility are the greatest of all virtues. “A profound spiritual truth I strongly embraced,” wrote David, is that “Life is a gift: handle this journey with gratitude, with compassion, with humility.”
  7. We treat all people with congruence, empathy, and respect. A student of psychology, David admired the humanistic, positive psychological approach to understanding humanity. For David, “These qualities immediately identified spiritual leadership at its best,” and he developed these social skills better than any person I’ve ever known.
  8. Cultivating relationships with others is the key to a vibrant spiritual life. “All relationships are sacred,” David told me, more than once. David was skillful in the heartful art of human connection. What was his secret? He made developing and nurturing human relationships his top priority.
  9. Keeping an open mind and an open heart will heal and unify us all. David wrote, “I was asked to be the Chaplain to all the students, faculty, and staff at the University of Richmond. Every one of these people is welcome at this University and in this Chaplaincy office, and I embrace them.”
  10. The Higher Power of our understanding loves and affirms us at all times. David held the steadfast belief that “there has been and continues to be a presence of something far greater than I can comprehend which loves and affirms me.”
  11. A sense of humor can enrich life and build bonds. David wrote, “I think humor is one of those key characteristics of a minister — that you not take yourself too seriously and be able to laugh at yourself and with others.”
  12. Wonder is in pursuit of us. This is one of David’s keenest insights: “I am bold to suggest that anyone who is attune to moral and spiritual values, who is seeing and listening and paying attention will likely understand that Wonder just might be another name for God.”