Thus far, in surveying types of prayer with the help of Bishop Ken Untener’s discussion in the Little Books of the Diocese of Saginaw, I have looked at verbal prayer and prayer which is essentially reflection on reading the Sacred Scriptures.
Before moving into meditation (thinking), I want to consider an activity which contains elements of reading and thinking.
The idea of journaling may seem to be forbidding. One may suppose that journaling means committing to filling up a space on some page, day after day, world without end. We could imagine it to be a sort of self-imposed torture.
But in fact, writing about what seems unresolved in one’s mind and heart can be quite a liberating experience. A habit of journaling is an opportunity to get the jumble of one’s thoughts “out in the open,” as it were. A journal, of course, is for the journaler’s eyes alone. It is a privileged space for offering one’s anxieties to God.
I began a period of several years of journaling when I was 23 years old. Like most people that age, I was trying to figure myself out. I was about to make a long journey by train. I stress that, back in 1980, prior to the current Age of “Connectedness” (this word is in quotes because of the irony of our current exposure to so much information and so little insight), a train trip was an ideal chance to be alone with one’s thoughts and, indeed, to be able to place those thoughts before God. I brought with me an old spiral notebook and I began to write.
I can remember writing, right at the start, about my concern that journaling would make me overly introspective. But then I noted that I could not imagine being any more introspective than I was at that time, and that journaling certainly couldn’t hurt.
Not only did journaling not hurt — it in fact became the occasion for me to let my imagination run freely and to make connections between my professed faith and the many people and situations which populated my life. For any Christian, I believe, putting anxieties into writing places one on the path to an appreciation of the gift of the Son of God who, in embracing human existence as it is, has made himself our servant as we seek to let ourselves receive his love.
I have not engaged in journaling for many, many years now. One reason for this is that I enjoy a variety of friendships wherein I find that I can easily share things from obscure corners of my spirit. I also find that my prayer is more spontaneous than it had been. The repeated words of the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours have become for me a “vocabulary” for prayer. The habitual repeating of these words allows me to “inhabit” the words so that they become my own expression of what’s in my heart.
If you think that journaling might be good for you, keep in mind that, in many respects, there’s nothing to it. An old notebook, a few pens, and silence — these are all you need. (Electronic devices may also be used.) You are not writing for publication. You are giving yourself a gift. As you do so, prepare yourself to be showered with gifts from our God, who is supremely eager to manifest his loving presence.