Introductory Note:

Poet and teacher Luci Shaw assures us that faithfully keeping a journal—of prayers, reflections, thoughts, etc.—will “enrich, nourish, mature, heal, develop, broaden, enhance and transform” us.

Jan Johnson once wrote that, in journaling, “As we put our feelings and experiences into concrete words, we create an opportunity for God to speak to us.” Even when we are not writers by trade or inclination, there is much value in the spiritual practice of keeping a journal. May it be a blessing in your own walk.

Renovaré Team

Excerpt from Life Path

All kinds of words could be used to describe what keep­ing a reflec­tive jour­nal will do for the one who writes it; writ­ing a jour­nal reg­u­lar­ly will enrich, nour­ish, mature, heal, devel­op, broad­en, enhance and trans­form you. No doubt about it, if you become a con­sis­tent jour­nal keep­er, you will change and be changed.

I could list num­bers of well-known jour­nal writ­ers and the titles of their pub­lished jour­nals to demon­strate this, among them Augustine’s Con­fes­sions, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, the jour­nals of Lewis and Clark, The Life and Diary of David Brain­erd, Blaise Pascal’s Pen­sées, Anne Mor­row Lindburgh’s series of pub­lished jour­nals and many oth­ers. But maybe two case-his­to­ries will serve as examples.

Sharon Earl, a young mar­ried woman who spent a week with me in a jour­nal work­shop, wrote to me:

The first assign­ment you gave us, to write, con­crete­ly and hon­est­ly, about a rela­tion­ship,” had an enor­mous impact on me. I decid­ed to write about my sis­ter who died in May. I felt I had dealt with my grief and did not feel par­tic­u­lar­ly emo­tion­al as I began to write. I end­ed up writ­ing my mem­o­ries of her since her birth (she was four years younger than I).
As I jour­naled (and jour­neyed) through her life, I was shocked at the well of grief that gushed through me. I spent a good amount of time in deep, pri­mal sob­bing. I began to see pat­terns in my rela­tion­ship to her that I hadn’t noticed before, and areas of hurt that I’d been afraid to look at.
In my jour­nal process I let myself con­scious­ly feel the lack of close­ness that per­vad­ed our child­hood. As her big sis­ter, I often ignored her, occu­pied as I was with grow­ing up and being with my own friends. Our four-year gap meant that when she was in high school, I was at col­lege. When she was at col­lege, I was mar­ried. Our lives didn’t real­ly begin to cross until we both became mothers.
Soon after I became a moth­er, my hus­band and I left for Kenya with our child, as mis­sion­ar­ies. A month after our arrival, my hus­band died in a car crash. For the next year, I was griev­ing, try­ing to cope as a sin­gle par­ent, and recov­er­ing. I also met my sec­ond hus­band, Shep. After we mar­ried, I became preg­nant again when, BAM!, the news of my sister’s diag­no­sis – acute myloblas­tic leukemia – hit me like a blow in the gut. I des­per­ate­ly want­ed to be close to her, care for her, be there, make up for lost time, and claim the sis­ter­hood that we should have had. Slow­ly God began to redeem our rela­tion­ship in those final days, though my pain dis­tanced me at times. I gave her a mug that said, My Sis­ter, My Friend,” and meant it with all my heart. Lat­er my moth­er told me that my sis­ter had said, That mug that Sharon gave me – the sis­ter mug – I wish I could take it to heaven.”
But it was through this process of jour­nal­ing that God became more real for me, and I expe­ri­enced his heal­ing and forgiveness.

In The Genesse Diary, Hen­ri Nouwen, the well-known writer and speak­er, tells of his expe­ri­ence dur­ing a sev­en-month stay in a Trap­pist monastery. As he par­tic­i­pat­ed in the dai­ly rou­tines of work and prayer at the Abbey of the Genesse in upstate New York, he kept a jour­nal that reflects all his con­flict­ing desires and ques­tions, his moments of mis­giv­ing as well as his joy, and a new sense of inte­gra­tion and expec­ta­tion, which seems to have come as much from keep­ing the jour­nal as from the monas­tic expe­ri­ence itself. Because it was a pri­vate jour­nal, nev­er intend­ed for pub­li­ca­tion, the result was a book of pen­e­trat­ing hon­esty, no holds barred. I rec­om­mend it as a superb mod­el for jour­nal writ­ing. As you read it you can feel Nouwen’s growth in self-knowl­edge and God-knowl­edge; he was being changed as he wrote.

Here’s what Nouwen says about writ­ing in The Genesse Diary:

It is a remark­able sen­sa­tion to see ideas and words flow­ing so eas­i­ly, as if they had always been there, waiting.
Mean­while, I am becom­ing more and more aware that for me writ­ing is a very pow­er­ful way of con­cen­trat­ing and of clar­i­fy­ing for myself many thoughts and feel­ings. Once I put pen on paper and write for an hour or two, a real sense of peace and har­mo­ny comes to me.… After a day with­out any writ­ing … I often have a gen­er­al feel­ing of men­tal con­sti­pa­tion and go to bed with the sense that I did not do what I should have done that day.

Here we have exam­ples of the pow­er of jour­nal writ­ing in two very dif­fer­ent con­texts … One a woman, one a man. One a young home­mak­er, one an expe­ri­enced and promi­nent spir­i­tu­al leader and writer.… [when you put the ideas of jour­nal­ing] into action, real­ize that you fit some­where between these two.

© Christi­na Press Ltd, Crow­bor­ough, East Sus­sex, Eng­land, 1997, pp. 13 – 16.

Text First Published January 1991

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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