An ancient practice of the saints, journaling is recommended by mental-health experts and others today as a self-improvement habit that can yield surprising revelations.
A journal can be almost anything –a place for prayer and reflection, an ongoing list of gratitudes, a straightforward accounting of one’s days, even a means of keeping oneself accountable for exercise and diet.
I began keeping an online journal in 2003. I often write every day. Journaling has seen me through countless challenges, including a mental-health crisis, caring for a demented in-law, marital and family difficulties, loss of my job, and deaths in my family to name a few.
Still, dedicating journal time specifically to prayer is new for me, something I’ve begun to practice in the dark, isolated days of the coronavirus pandemic.
WHY KEEP A PRAYER JOURNAL?
“Habits serve us,” observes Katie Dawson, director of evangelization and parish faith formation for the Diocese of Orange. “Establishing a rhythm in our lives that includes prayer through journaling can help us keep track of where God has been showing up in our life.”
Dawson says journaling is best when it is rooted in each day’s Scripture readings. “Prayer journals force us to notice what speaks to us in those readings, showing us where God is speaking to us, challenging us, or consoling us.
“What people who persistently journal find is that they can discern the presence of God using their journal,” she says.
Writing about life’s challenges and re-visiting that writing later helps us to gain clarity in our relationships with God, ourselves, and others, says Father Dairo Diaz of St. Patrick’s Church at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, on moodycatholic.com. “Over a period of time, patterns of acting, relating, and thinking all emerge as tools for self-understanding,” Fr. Diaz writes. “We begin to see evidence of God’s work in our lives, reminding us of our inner beauty and gently confronting our limitations.”
Dynamic Catholic’s Matthew Kelly lists four reasons why Catholics should keep journals:
2.It preserves memories.
3.It sparks creativity.
4.It builds self-discipline.
HOW TO BEGIN A SPIRITUAL JOURNAL
Writing on Pauline.org, the Daughters of St. Paul describe how to begin a spiritual journal with an empty notebook, a quiet place where you can be alone with God, a Bible, and a favorite spiritual book.
“Start with prayer,” the article advises. “Open yourself to God’s voice and sit still and silent before addressing him with words; God often speaks to us through silence. Wait, and listen. What is it that God wants of you at this moment?”
Then, the article says, take a few minutes to read a passage from Scripture or a page or two from your spiritual book. Pick up your journal, ask for the Holy Spirit to guide you, and write whatever your prayer and reading have inspired in you.
“Don’t worry about making sense in your journal: this is between you and God, and God already knows what is in your heart,” the Daughters write. “The journal is really for you, for clarifying your thoughts and beliefs, for exploring the depths of your relationship with God, for helping you make choices and decisions in your daily life.”
REFERENCES FOR BEGINNING
Lots of websites offer advice on how to begin a prayer journal. Here are a few: