Editor's 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.

Originally published January 1991

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