Sunday, February 14, 2010

Launch Into Lent: Keep a Spiritual Journal

I think that Westerners are completely out of touch with their innermost thoughts. In fact, I think that we're terrified of our innermost thoughts, and that's why we try to drown them out with music, television, chattering on our cellphones. We're scared to know what we really think.

Journalling is a powerful tool for us, and many people have said that keeping a journal is meditation for Westerners. Maybe you already keep a journal. No matter your thoughts on keeping a journal, you might try some of these techniques to add some spiritual depth to your Lent.

Don't worry about the tools of the writing process. You can write on a computer or with your trusty pen. You can buy a beautiful book or write on scraps of paper. If you already journal, you can use it.

And don't worry too much about the logistics. It would be lovely if we all had an hour in the morning and in the evening to get in touch with our deepest selves, but most of us don't. So use what you have. If you can't achieve silence, don't fret. Write while the commercials are on and your family members are clicking through channels if you have to. God can use the time we have.

Choose one of the following and write. Feel free to return to it.

Writing Prompts:

--Where did you see God today? Where have you seen God in the last week?

--Keep a prayer list. Who needs your prayers today?

--Keep an answered prayer list. How has God answered your prayers?

--Create some prayers of your own. You might start by writing a prayer for morning, a prayer before bedtime, a prayer at noon.

--Write about the Scripture you've been reading. For example, you might ask yourself, "Who am I in this Gospel lesson?" You might see what still speaks to you, and what seems anchored to a distant time and place. If you keep this spiritual discipline through the years, you might return to an unapproachable text and see if it remains unapproachable.

--Take a Bible and choose a book. Try to write in the style of that book (Psalms might be a good place to start. Or update the Old Testament prophets to reflect our current time. Or write your own letter to a fledgling church, like Paul did).

--Write about the other spiritual material you've been reading. Look for spiritual lessons in your secular reading.

--Choose a word that has some spiritual charge and write about it. Here are some words to get you started: bread, sanctuary, grace, spirit, flesh, salvation, host, wine, revelation, soul, redeem, love, trinity, creator, fruit, joy, peace. If you enjoy this and would like to read a masterful writer engaged in the same process, read Katherine Norris' Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.

--If you could change your life in any way—if anything could be possible—how would your life look? Describe your job, your relationships, your house, your daily life.

--Write some music. If you’re not musical (meaning you can’t create a tune on demand), take your favorite hymn and write a new verse or two.

--Fill in this blank and then write for 5 minutes: God loves me like _____________. Or write that sentence, with a blank, 26 times and fill in the blank differently each time.

--God has assigned you to be the shepherd for your community. Write up a report that tells God what you notice that the community needs.

--Imagine that you can say anything you like to God. What do you say?

--Write in the voice of God, speaking directly to you.This last one might give you pause. Those of us who grew up in conservative traditions might fear being hit with a lightning bolt. However, I did this--with some fear and trepidation--with a journal writing workshop that I let, and my participants have let me know that this exercise was the most powerful thing we did. You might want to save this for a time when you have 15 minutes or more. It might take you some time to get into the spirit of the exercise.


Luann Budd's Journal Keeping: Writing for Spiritual Growth.

Christina Baldwin has spent most of her life writing about journalling, but she comes from a non-Christian, New Agey perspective. Her book Life's Companion: Journal Writing as Spiritual Quest is useful.

Augsburg has a neat 40 Day Journey series, which gives readings from an author, readings from the Bible, prayers, and journalling prompts. In the series: Kathleen Norris (recommended!), Julian of Norwich, Parker J. Palmer, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Madeleine L'Engle, Joan Chittister, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther.