Introductory Note:

As Chris Hall reminded us so recently in his Mystery of God blog series, fostering a “conscious imitation of praiseworthy models” is an important step toward transforming our habits and our spiritual health.

In that spirit, today we are offering some models of journaled prayer of different kinds. True, these are rather famous examples, but we ought not to be intimidated: Augustine of Hippo, Julian of Norwich, and Blaise Pascal would not have us so. Rather, we should enjoy the distinct style each has lent to his or her recording of the divine conversation with our good and beautiful God. May we all be heartened by the diversity of expression here and, perhaps, a little inspired to engage ourselves.

Renovaré Team

Augus­tine of Hip­po: Prayer Jour­nal­ing as Con­fes­sion­al Contemplation

James J. O’Don­nell of George­town Uni­ver­si­ty writes of Augustine’s Con­fes­sions:

Prayer — so all the author­i­ta­tive writ­ers state — is no sim­ple mat­ter. It is not easy to pray. In view of that, we should direct our first atten­tion to the form of Augustine’s mas­ter­work and por­tion out at least some of our admi­ra­tion for his accom­plish­ment of a very dif­fi­cult task: pray­ing on paper. The lit­er­ary form of the work is a con­tin­u­ous address to God … Such a work would seem doomed to fail­ure. Prayer is pri­vate, but lit­er­a­ture is unfail­ing­ly pub­lic; prayer is hum­ble, but lit­er­a­ture is always a form of self-asser­tion; prayer is inti­mate, but lit­er­a­ture is voyeuris­tic … But some­how or oth­er Augus­tine suc­ceeds. The Con­fes­sions are marked by an unfail­ing con­sis­ten­cy of tone and authen­tic­i­ty of style. The believ­er and the writer func­tion as one, with no awk­ward­ness or embar­rass­ment. There is nev­er a false note, no false mod­esty, no pos­ing for an audi­ence. We come away con­vinced that, what­ev­er else we have learned, in it we have seen Augus­tine at prayer, as he was.

Oh! that I might repose on Thee! Oh! that Thou wouldest enter into my heart, and ine­bri­ate it, that I may for­get my ills, and embrace Thee, my sole good! What art Thou to me? In Thy pity, teach me to utter it. Or what am I to Thee that Thou deman­d­est my love, and, if I give it not, art wroth with me, and threat­en­est me with griev­ous woes? Is it then a slight woe to love Thee not? Oh! for Thy mer­cies’ sake, tell me, O Lord my God, what Thou art unto me. Say unto my soul, I am thy sal­va­tion. So speak, that I may hear. Behold, Lord, my heart is before Thee; open Thou the ears there­of, and say unto my soul, I am thy sal­va­tion. After this voice let me haste, and take hold on Thee. Hide not Thy face from me. Let me die — lest I die — only let me see Thy face. 

Nar­row is the man­sion of my soul; enlarge Thou it, that Thou mayest enter in. It is ruinous; repair Thou it. It has that with­in which must offend Thine eyes; I con­fess and know it. But who shall cleanse it? or to whom should I cry, save Thee? Lord, cleanse me from my secret faults, and spare Thy ser­vant from the pow­er of the ene­my. I believe, and there­fore do I speak. Lord, Thou know­est. Have I not con­fessed against myself my trans­gres­sions unto Thee, and Thou, my God, hast for­giv­en the iniq­ui­ty of my heart? I con­tend not in judg­ment with Thee, who art the truth; I fear to deceive myself; lest mine iniq­ui­ty lie unto itself. There­fore I con­tend not in judg­ment with Thee; for if Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniq­ui­ties, O Lord, who shall abide it? (Con­fes­sions, Book One)

Julian of Nor­wich: Prayer Jour­nal­ing as Divine Revelation

Geor­gia Ronan Cramp­ton of Uni­ver­si­ty of Rochester writes in her intro­duc­tion to The Shew­ings of Julian of Nor­wich:

Julian’s show­ings com­prise visu­al images, words that emerge in her mind ful­ly artic­u­lat­ed, and spir­i­tu­al events with­out sen­su­ous rep­re­sen­ta­tion, either visu­al or ver­bal. She care­ful­ly reports not only the con­tent of her expe­ri­ences, but also their modes of per­cep­tion: All this was shown in three ways, that is to say, by bod­i­ly sight, by words formed in my mind, and by spir­i­tu­al sight. But I can­not nor may not show the spir­i­tu­al sight as open­ly nor as ful­ly as I would wish to do.” 

In this same time our Lord shewed me a spir­i­tu­al sight of His home­ly loving.

I saw that He is to us every­thing that is good and com­fort­able for us: He is our cloth­ing that for love wrap­peth us, claspeth us, and all enclos­eth us for ten­der love, that He may nev­er leave us; being to us all-thing that is good, as to mine understanding.

Also in this He shewed me a lit­tle thing, the quan­ti­ty of an hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked there­upon with eye of my under­stand­ing, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered gen­er­al­ly thus: It is all that is made. I mar­velled how it might last, for methought it might sud­den­ly have fall­en to naught for little[ness]. And I was answered in my under­stand­ing: It lasteth, and ever shall [last] for that God loveth it. And so All-thing hath the Being by the love of God.

In this Lit­tle Thing I saw three prop­er­ties. The first is that God made it, the sec­ond is that God loveth it, the third, that God keep­eth it. But what is to me ver­i­ly the Mak­er, the Keep­er, and the Lover, — I can­not tell; for till I am Sub­stan­tial­ly oned to Him, I may nev­er have full rest nor very bliss: that is to say, till I be so fas­tened to Him, that there is right nought that is made betwixt my God and me. (Show­ings, Chap­ter 5)

Blaise Pas­cal: Prayer Jour­nal­ing as Med­i­ta­tive Streaming 

T.S. Eliot wrote in an intro­duc­tion to Pas­cal’s Pen­sées:

We must regard the Pen­sées as mere­ly the first notes for a work which he left far from com­ple­tion; we have, in Sainte-Beu­ve’s words, a tow­er of which the stones have been laid on each oth­er, but not cement­ed, and the struc­ture unfin­ished. In ear­ly years his mem­o­ry had been amaz­ing­ly reten­tive of any­thing that he wished to remem­ber; and had it not been impaired by increas­ing ill­ness and pain, he prob­a­bly would not have been oblig­ed to set down these notes at all. But tak­ing the book as it is left to us, we still find that it occu­pies a unique place in the his­to­ry of French lit­er­a­ture and in the his­to­ry of reli­gious meditation.

Those who do not love the truth take as a pre­text that it is dis­put­ed, and that a mul­ti­tude deny it. And so their error aris­es only from this, that they do not love either truth or char­i­ty. Thus they are with­out excuse.

Super­sti­tion and lust. Scru­ples, evil desires. Evil fear; fear, not such as comes from a belief in God, but such as comes from a doubt whether He exists or not. True fear comes from faith; false fear comes from doubt. True fear is joined to hope, because it is born of faith, and because men hope in the God in whom they believe. False fear is joined to despair, because men fear the God in whom they have no belief. The for­mer fear to lose Him; the lat­ter fear to find Him.

A mir­a­cle,” says one, would strength­en my faith.” He says so when he does not see one. Rea­sons, seen from afar, appear to lim­it our view; but when they are reached, we begin to see beyond. Noth­ing stops the nim­ble­ness of our mind. There is no rule, say we, which has not some excep­tions, no truth so gen­er­al which has not some aspect in which it fails. It is suf­fi­cient that it be not absolute­ly uni­ver­sal to give us a pre­text for apply­ing the excep­tions to the present sub­ject, and for say­ing, This is not always true; there are there­fore cas­es where it is not so.” It only remains to show that this is one of them; and that is why we are very awk­ward or unlucky, if we do not find one some day.

We do not weary of eat­ing and sleep­ing every day, for hunger and sleepi­ness recur. With­out that we should weary of them. So, with­out the hunger for spir­i­tu­al things, we weary of them. Hunger after right­eous­ness, the eighth beatitude.

Faith indeed tells what the sens­es do not tell, but not the con­trary of what they see. It is above them and not con­trary to them.

How many stars have tele­scopes revealed to us which did not exist for our philoso­phers of old! We freely attack Holy Scrip­ture on the great num­ber of stars, say­ing, There are only one thou­sand and twen­ty-eight, we know it.” There is grass on the earth, we see it — from the moon we would not see it — and on the grass are leaves, and in these leaves are small ani­mals; but after that no more. — O pre­sump­tu­ous man! — The com­pounds are com­posed of ele­ments, and the ele­ments not. — O pre­sump­tu­ous man! Here is a fine reflec­tion. — We must not say that there is any­thing which we do not see. — We must then talk like oth­ers, but not think like them. (Pen­sées, #261 – 266)

Con­fes­sions by St. Augus­tine, pub­lic domain via Project Guten­berg.

Rev­e­la­tions of Divine Love (Show­ings) by Julian of Nor­wich, pub­lic domain via Project Guten­berg.

Pen­sées by Blaise Pas­cal, pub­lic domain via Project Guten­berg

PC: Vit­tore Carpac­cio [Pub­lic domain], via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons.

📚 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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