- Spiritual Journaling: A Timeless Art and Practice to Deepen Your Faith
Do you feel as though something is missing in your prayer life? You prepare to pray and then nothing? Or maybe you are filled with that dreaded “spiritual dryness” that afflicts so many saints. Worse, you can’t exactly describe your unease or constant agitation when you try to pray. You just know in your heart that somehow you’ve lost your connection with God and don't know how to reclaim or even instill that deeply desired “oneness with God.”
One way to begin to reconnect with God and amp up your prayer life is through spiritual journaling. Catholics are no strangers to spiritual journaling. The list of saints who’ve had their personal journals published is long and includes St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Faustina, St. Gertrude the Great, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Pope John XXIII. Have you ever wondered why?
The Dance Between Sacred Reading & Prayer
For me, the act of journaling is a way to achieve clarity within the small sanctuary of paper and ink. It’s a place to catch my breath, slow my mind, and work out the kinks and knots of daily life. It’s a moment where I can focus and have a little chat with God, wrestle problems with the saints, or even discover something new and surprising.
Maybe your immediate response is to run from the idea of a “dear Diary moment,” and in the beginning, it may sound or look a bit like that. But spiritual journaling grows and takes shape and is much like Lectio Divina, that beautiful dance between sacred reading and prayer where the journal becomes the one place where you can fully and deeply explore God’s Word, your quietest of thoughts, and the yearnings of your heart all at once. It’s a tradition that harkens back to the days of St. Augustine and his ”Confessions” or St. Ignatius with his Spiritual Exercises.
St. Hildegard von Bingen, a Doctor of the Church, practiced a form of spiritual journaling in her letters. The Rupertsberg manuscript (1151 AD), now lost, contained three manuscripts written by St. Hildegard von Bingen, a Doctor of the Church, had an illustration depicting the divine inspiration and the saint dictating her visions to a scribe. Today's color copies of the illustrations exist that were faithfully reproduced in the early 20th Century, one showing dictating to a scribe the divine inspiration she received.
To go even further back, you may have heard Socrates saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Today we find the same idea echoed when St. Paul says to us: test “everything, hold fast what is good.” That is what spiritual journaling helps us do – sift through all the chatter to uncover the treasures.
To take up spiritual journaling is to answer the invitation to grow closer to God along a path already walked by saints and scholars secure in the knowledge spiritual journaling is a cornerstone in our Catholic tradition. Think of going through letters from your ancestors and gleaning all the wisdom they have to offer today.
Among the many who have tried their hand at spiritual journaling are the Church Fathers. Theologians and bishops were prolific writers who left a trail of letters, homilies, and treatises that we can still read and learn from today. Within the many pages of doctrine and traditions, they also revealed their own personal struggles and revelations. Talk about windows opening into souls. They offer us timeless wisdom that we can apply to our own lives today.
Today, we often hear of St. Thomas Aquinas and his mountain of theological works, but there are bright lights like Thérèse of Lisieux, with her “Story of a Soul” that is very much like receiving an intimate letter from this blessed saint as she shares her “little way” of loving God.
So you see, the practice of writing down our spiritual reflections isn't something new; it's woven into the very fabric of our faith. When we journal, we join this ancient and sacred conversation, adding our voice to a dialogue that spans millennia.
The Many Rewards of Keeping a Spiritual Journal
You may wonder why we’ve strolled through the ages while asking, “What’s in it for me?” Well, whether you’re struggling to get a prayer life going, disconnected or cut off from God, or simply hunger for a more powerful and deeply felt spiritual life, the spiritual journaling path is filled with grace-filled moments, soul-deep insights, and even more surprises.
One way that journaling helps is to reveal those little nudges from God that our modern-day life often cloaks. By taking the time to scribble out our thoughts and prayers, we instantly become more aware of God’s whispers. Think of it as a way to turn down the volume filling our lives so that we can hear the divine melody of God’s daily presence in interaction in our own lives.
You’d be amazed how powerful the act of putting your thoughts onto paper can be. It’s not uncommon to suddenly remember long-forgotten dreams or identify those vague and swirling fears that have plagued you for months or years. When you write down your spiritual struggles and, yes, victories, you’ll begin to see patterns. Suddenly you realize you’re more patient than you thought, or a blanketed source of anger or anxiety can be revealed.
One of the most powerful aspects of keeping a spiritual journal is that you can begin to understand God’s will in your life. It becomes a place of discernment, decision-making, and clarity. It is those very moments of confusion when the Holy Spirit will often make himself known, and the deep-seated love of God fills your soul.
I guess the best way to describe the whole act of spiritual journaling is to simply say it’s a record of your walk with God. You can look back on a day, a week, months, or even years. The pages contain breadcrumbs revealing a trail of grace that shows how God has been there for you, leading you all the way.
In essence, a spiritual journal becomes a tangible record of your walk with God. You can look back weeks, months, or even years later and see how far you've come. It's like a breadcrumb trail of grace, revealing the subtle and not-so-subtle ways God has been leading you all along. Best of all, it’s a record of your conversations with God.
Within those pages, you’ll also identify your spiritual family. You may think you are alone in this world, but your journals will reveal the very nature of your spiritual family that has enriched you along your own spiritual path. It’s not merely writing. It’s having a heavenly conversation.
Starting Your Spiritual Journaling Journey
The first rule of thumb is that perfectionism is not your friend. Do not, under any circumstances, allow perfectionism to hold you hostage. You’re not writing a literary masterpiece. It’s a place where you and God come together. Forget misspellings, incomplete sentences, and stops and starts. The point is to begin the process of opening your heart.
It’s really helpful to bank in time and reflection. Many journalers often begin their day with their pen and journals in hand, ready to prepare for the day within the quiet space of a spiritual connection. Others wait for evening when the daily hustle and bustle subsides, and they have a moment to reflect and recount their blessings and their challenges. It’s all up to you. You chose the where and when, and don’t think that even a mere ten minutes can’t have an impact. It can.
You have the time and the space. Now what? Oh, it’s the scary stuff. What to write about? Some journalers simply put pen to paper and begin to write. Others are list lovers and begin their sessions by listing their blessings, their gratitude, and their prayers. Still, others will begin by reflecting on the Mass readings for the day. And others will mix it up. The idea is not to start with a blank page.
A common favorite is to bring in the spiritual classics where you choose a book or diary, do daily readings, and then write and reflect. Others will work their way through scripture passages or even prayers. Often, the words of others can be launching pads for your own thoughts and prayers that guide you ever closer to God.
If you're still not sure where to begin, here are what you might call conversation starters. Think of it as the saints or even Jesus asking you what you think. Try these:
- Reflect on a Gospel passage: Explore what it reveals about God’s character or your own spiritual journey.
- Examine your day: Review your day’s highs and lows, consolations, and desolations.
- Write a letter to a saint: Choose a saint you feel close to and write them a letter as though to a longtime friend. Ask for guidance, and share your struggles,.
- List your blessings: The simplest acts, like enumerating what you’re thankful for, can bring spiritual clarity. Be sure to pause to reflect.
- Pray for others: Dedicate a page to those in your life who need prayers. You'll be offering a prayer on paper as you write down their names and needs.
Don’t let those blank pages scare you. Always remember, a blank page is just an open invitation for God’s grace to fill it up.
Avoiding Common Pitfalls
The biggest warning I can give you is that what you don’t want to do is turn your spiritual journaling into a ‘to-do list’ of spiritual tasks. This is a common pitfall among list lovers. Prayer warriors, this is not when you make a list of folks who need your prayers. Do not turn the page into a checklist of spiritual things I did today. Your journal is a sacred space where you dialogue with God. He wants to know the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of your daily life, not a dry recitation of deeds and intentions.
Another stumbling block occurs when we get too caught up in our feelings and use up our journal space for analysis of every single speck of action or emotion we did or are contemplating. Reflection is good, but don’t let your feelings and actions cause you to forget that it’s even more important to ‘be’ with God in His presence. Spiritual journaling should bring you closer to Him and not leave you rudderless and loose upon an ocean of emotions.
Finally, you probably already suspect this one. Learn to be constant. Fostering a relationship with God is like having one with any other friend, but even more so. God wants and needs your time and attention. Learn to be constant, be regular, and be willing to show up—even if you are feeling discouraged and don’t want to. Whether you miss one day or one hundred days, God still waits for you. Go ahead. Pick up your pen and say hello.
Your Invitation to Intimacy with God Through Spiritual Journaling
The most important thing you can remember is that your goal of intimacy with God can be your spiritual journal and gateway. It truly is transformative.
Perhaps you’ve been reading and have the impression that you must be Catholic to succeed with spiritual journaling. Remember that this is a form and tool for prayer and reflection and is available no matter where you are on your spiritual journey.
Catholic or not, your spiritual journal is a place where you cultivate a relationship with the Eternal, grapple with life and its complexities, and embrace the fullness of simplicity.
Ready to open that journal and let the ink flow? I truly hope your words will become a pathway to a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God, and your spiritual journal will become a blessed companion.
Get the journal My Holy Hour – St. Faustina here.
Get the journal My Holy Hour – St. Hildegard of Bingen here.
Get the journal My Holy Hour – St. Joseph here.
St. Gertrude, St. Hildegard von Bingen & St. Mathew and the Angel images are public domain.