Spiritual Practice: Journaling

Journaling

I always say I’m not a journaler, but I just typed an update on the computer in a journal file that I’ve kept faithfully since 2009. And, if you dug around in the recesses of my basement, you’d come across boxes of notebooks I’ve been writing in since 1977. So, am I a journaler? I guess I am.

Where’s the breakdown? I think the problem is that when I think of journaling, I imagine a diary, something people cherish and update daily. I tried that as a child, but I had little success. My life was just not that interesting. I tried again when my life finally did get that interesting, those diaries had to be burned!

We need a new idea of journaling that includes a broader definition. Here’s mine: Journaling as a spiritual practice is any way of keeping an account of the work of God in your life. If that is true, I am a journaler.

Eight years ago, I took a spiritual direction class that included the book, Journaling As a Spiritual Practice: Encountering God Through Attentive Writing, by my professor, Helen Cepero.

As part of that class, we did the journaling exercises set out in the book and after the class, I continued. The difference was I only wrote in this journal once a month when I was on my silent retreats. I have continued this practice for eight years now, but never really thought of it as journaling because it wasn’t a daily practice. Still, over time it has become a record of the work of God in my life through the tremendous experience of the last eight years. It counts!

What about the boxes in my basement? When I was eighteen I arrived at college as a newly minted Christian. I didn’t know anything about being a believer so I found the first mature looking Christian I could and asked how to go about growing my faith. She suggested that I find a spiral notebook and divide it in half. In the first section, I was to read the Bible and when something stood out to me, write it down. In the second section, I was to draw a vertical line down each page and use one side for writing out my prayers and the other side for writing the answers to those prayers. This was very doable and I’ve been doing it for forty years. I don’t often go back and read the old ones, but the idea of having boxes full of forty years of answered prayer is very encouraging. It counts!

So, how do you make journaling work for you? I think a journal can be as different as the person writing it, or drawing in it, or painting in it, or placing photographs in it. I’ve seen some people who cherish their journals and go back often to re-read them. They are modern-day examples of memorial stones that people of ancient times set up to mark a spiritually significant event. Some find writing too cumbersome and prefer to draw or paint. I have a friend who does a photography blog, which is very much a way to journal. It counts!

journaling 2

What’s stopping you? For the next two weeks, try a journal of your own design. Find a way to make it work for you. The point is to record the work of God in your life. Maybe it will be a purely mental journal, or a list of bullet points, or some kind of fitness tracker where you note significant aspects of your workouts that have filled your soul tank. Think outside the box – or in this case the notebook.

*For more on spiritual formation exercises, check out my new book, A Tale of Spiritual Awakening.

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Spiritual Practice: Quaker Clearness Committee

clearness committee

Last time we talked about discernment using the Ignatian method of Examen over a period of time, looking for themes of joy and life to guide us to our true selves. This week I will discuss bringing a discernment question to a group in a Quaker Clearness Committee.

In the same way that you don’t have to be Catholic to try the Ignition practice, you don’t have to be a Quaker to try the clearness committee. I am neither and have used both very effectively.

Of course, there are wonderful online resources to read more about this practice in depth, so I will do a short summary here.

When you have a difficult decision, and you need some wisdom and guidance, you can try this with some trusted friends. You will be called the “focus person,” and you will come with your question written out as clearly as you can, even if it is not a fully formed question. Some questions might be: Should I marry this person, should I take this job, should I go to college…any big question will work.

The goal of the clearness committee is not to give you an answer to the question, but rather to help you listen to your inner voice, your own wisdom, to find the answer.

When you gather, make sure you have two hours of time set aside to really listen well.

Appoint someone to be the leader or clerk and keep everyone else on target. The target for the committee members is to listen well and ask ONLY open-ended, honest questions. That is the hardest part right there: No advice giving, no pointed questions or leading questions or judgments. At the “Alive Now” site they said this about the process:

Typically, the meeting begins with a period of centering silence. The focus person begins with a fresh summary of the issue. Then committee members speak, governed by a simple but demanding rule: Members must limit themselves to asking the focus person questions-honest, caring questions. This means no advice (“Why don’t you…?” or “My uncle had the same problem and he…,” or “I know a good therapist that could help.”), only authentic, challenging, open, loving questions. Members guard against questions that arise from curiosity rather than care for the person’s clarity about his or her inner truth. The clerk dismisses questions that are advice or judgment in disguise.

The last fifteen minutes, the leader can ask the focus person if they’d like to suspend the questions only rule and at that time, and if the focus person wants to, the committee members can reflect back what they’ve heard. Still, no advice is given. The focus person is not expected to have an answer by the end of the meeting, but the process of unpacking the focus person’s inner wisdom will continue to unfold over time.

Of course, all that is said in a Clearness Committee is confidential and all notes taken during the meeting are given to the focus person at the end.

I did this once, with some wise women friends and I found it very helpful. I was going through a major transition at the time and I felt lost about what to do next. The main idea that stayed with me from the clearness committee was that “when you are journeying through the wilderness you can’t carry a heavy load, you have to decide which things you want to keep and which things you need to let go.” This began an important season of letting go of some old things and making room for the new.

I’d encourage you to read more on this idea and to try it with some friends. You never know what your inner wisdom is waiting to tell you.

If you’re interested in a fun way to learn more about Spiritual Practices, check out my eBook, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening. It’s fiction but you will learn many new formation techniques along the way, and you will get to know some quirky new characters as well.

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