As I noted in part 1 of this series on daily spiritual practice, the daily devotionals I share are gathered out of notes I write in my spiritual journal inspired by my Christian meditation practice. I thought it would be fitting to share a little about the practice of Christian spiritual journaling.
This is a truly ancient practice. In some ways one can look at certain Biblical texts like Lamentations, certain Psalms, as growing out of something like spiritual journaling. Yet journaling has always been a common practice among people trying to engage the spiritual life as Christian believers. Augustine’s Confessions, one of the first great pieces of inspirational Christian literature, was essentially a highly edited publishing of Augustine’s spiritual journal. Since then in almost every Christian tradition people engaged in lives of deep spirituality have used journaling and writing as a way of growing spiritually.
Today not only is journaling a practice of spiritual growth but it has been picked up, like mindfulness and meditation, by psychologists as a tool that can help cultivate psychological health and well-being.
I searched for a good description I could point to of what spiritual journaling looks like from a Christian perspective, and was surprised to find an excellent article from a not-very-progressive Christian website, Desiring God. I share some quotes from their answer to “Why Journal?” as a good summary of how journaling helps in the spiritual life:
“With the eyes of faith, the Christian life is a great adventure, and a journal can be greatly beneficial in ripening our joy along the journey. There is always more going on in us and around than we can appreciate at the time. Journaling is a way of slowing life down for just a few moments, and trying to process at least a sliver of it for the glory of God, our own growth and development, and our enjoyment of the details.
“Good journaling is much more than simply capturing the past, but recording past events is one of the most common instincts in it. For the Christian, we acknowledge these as the providences of God. When some important event happens to us, or around us, or some “serendipity” breaks in with divine fingerprints, a journal is a place to capture it and make it available for future reference.
“Writing it down provides an opportunity for gratitude and praise to God — not just in the moment, but also one day when we return to what we’ve recorded. Without capturing some brief record of this good providence or that answer to prayer, we quickly forget the blessing, or the frustration, and miss the chance to see with specificity later on how “‘tis grace hath brought me safe thus far.” A journal also becomes a place where we can look back not just on what happened, but how we were thinking and feeling about it at the time.
“But good journaling isn’t just about yesterday, but also about growing into the future… Journaling is an opportunity to grow into tomorrow. We can identify where we need change and set goals and pinpoint priorities and monitor progress. We can evaluate how we’re doing in the other spiritual disciplines we want to be practicing.
“And the regular habit of journaling will help you to grow as a communicator and writer, as you practice getting your thoughts into words and onto the page. Your journal is your sandbox, where you can try your hand at daring metaphors and literary flair. It’s a safe place to take practice swings before stepping to the plate in public.
“…Finally, as we journal, we’re able to disentangle our thoughts, draw out our emotions, and dream about new endeavors. The discipline of writing facilitates careful thinking, catalyzes deep feeling, and inspires intentional action.
“Deep joy and satisfaction can come from getting our complicated and confusing thoughts and feelings into words on the page. Our heads and hearts carry around so many unfinished thoughts and emotions we’re only able to finish as we write them down. As praise is not just the expression of joy, but the consummation of it, so is writing to the soul. Writing doesn’t merely capture what’s already inside us, but in the very act of writing, we enable our heads and hearts to take the next step, then two, then ten. It has a crystalizing effect. Good writing is not just the expression of what we’re already experiencing, but the deepening of it.
“It is a remarkable thing that God made a world so ready for written words, and designed human beings so naturally to write them and read them. And he made our minds such that we’re able to take thoughts further, and do so in greater detail, than our short-term memory can keep track of in the moment. When we write, we not only disentangle our thoughts, draw out our emotions, and dream about fresh initiatives, but we develop them.
“Which makes journaling not just an exercise in introspection, but a pathway for joy — and a powerful tool in the hands of love.” (Taken from http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/journal-as-a-pathway-to-joy)
The blog “A Holy Experience” also points out some other benefits of engaging in this spiritual practice. Here is just the tip of the iceburg in what they describe: “1. …Journaling is a place to be unmasked and meet God
“A journal can become a sacred place,” writes Magaret Feinberg. “Mere blank pages are transformed into a site where you can record the most intimate parts of your soul. A place where you can travel with your deepest thoughts and confessions. A place where you can slip off the mask of who you are supposed to be and slip into something more comfortable: who you really are.”…
“2. Because journaling lets us see soul areas the Holy Spirit is growing
“Journaling focuses mind and heart on the issues of growth with the aim of discerning what God is doing in one’s life,” writes Richard Peace, author of Spiritual Journaling: Recording Your Journey Toward God . “By using a journal, we come in touch with our cutting edges of growth, those areas where questions exist or where there is need or longing. These are areas where the Holy Spirit seems most active.”
“3. Because journaling strengthens other disciplines
“Journaling is also an aid to other spiritual disciplines,” says Peace. “Writing down your insights is helpful in Bible study. Writing out prayers helps you to communicate with God. Creating a poem that praises God is an act of worship.”
“4. Because journaling is a way to visually examine our thought processes
“I begin these pages for myself, in order to think out my own particular pattern of living, my individual balance of life, work, and human relationships,” writes Gift from the Sea author Anne Morrow Lindberg. “And since I think best with a pencil in my hand, I started to write…”
“5. Because journaling cultivates deep honesty and authenticity
“At first it was difficult. I felt self-conscious. I was worried that I would lose the journal or that someone might peek inside to see what I’d said,” writes Gordon MacDonald concerning his practice of journaling. “But slowly the self-consciousness began to fade, and I found myself sharing in the journal more and more of the thoughts that flooded my inner spirit. Into the journal went words describing my feelings, my fear and sense of weakness, my hopes, and my discoveries about where Christ was leading me.
“When I felt empty or defeated, I talked about that too in the journal. Slowly I began to realize that the journal was helping me come to grips with an enormous part of my inner person that I had never been fully honest about. No longer could fears and struggles remain inside without definition. They were surfaced and confronted…” (Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World)
I would add that journaling is a form of creative expression. But writing a journal is not the only form of creative expression in which you can express your full self and come in touch with Spirit. I believe dance, painting, song, music, pottery, even gardening and carpentry can all be done in ways you are creatively expressing what is in your inmost self and by doing encountering God through more fully seeing yourself. When we are able to express our inmost selves so that we can see and know ourselves more deeply, we enable ourselves to also more fully see God as God dwells in, with, under, through, and around our own lives.
I’d love if you shared what form of creative expression, whether journaling or something else, which you make a spiritual practice and how it enlivens your life. Know that what counts is not if the practice you engage in mirrors my own, but rather that you engage faithfully in the practices that help your life open up.
And I sure ain’t whistling Dixie,
Your progressive redneck preacher,