Editor's 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)

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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.