So far, in this Spiritual Matters Column, I have written about a variety of ways to journal to help us grow spiritually; that is, to grow into the most loving person, to ourselves, and everyone and everything else. These journaling ways have included growing gratitude, asking for help from God*, and considering the help already at hand. For me, all of these practices move naturally in and out of my daily journaling. In other words, I don’t necessarily do all of these things every time I journal. But there is one spiritual practice that I do EVERY SINGLE TIME before I close my journal. Let me lead you to it.
Generally, I start with the current date and then I write down what is on my mind and heart. It is basically a way to spew the script that is running in my head. I write whatever comes to mind. It often consists of things I did the day before or what I expect to happen today, how I am feeling and why, what I dreamt about the night before or the song that was on my heart when I woke up. Sometimes I interpret or try to explain why I had the dream or held that song upon awakening. Let’s start here.
STEP 1: Write today’s date and answer the following daily prompts.
JOURNAL PROMPT: What is on my heart today?
JOURNAL PROMPT: What thoughts keep on coming?
JOURNAL PROMPT: How am I feeling? Why am I feeling this way?
JOURNAL PROMPT: What am I not wanting to write about?
If you do not have time to answer all of them, just begin wherever you are being pulled to begin. There is no right or wrong way to journal. If you have time, reread what you have written because it may spur you to write more on a subject or you may think of something else.
STEP 2: In the space just under today’s entry, write these words: God,* what do you want me to know? Next, give space for the answers to come.
For me, sometimes I hear an answer immediately and I write it down. Sometimes I wait in silence until an answer comes and I write it down. Not often, but sometimes I hear nothing, and sometimes I am inspired to use a tool. Tools often include meditation cards, the Bible, a daily devotional, or a spiritual book such as Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying (The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. 2006). If you are not sure what to use, use the tool which pops up into your head first. It could be the first thing you see, something random like a magazine on your coffee table or a book in front of you. Don’t pass judgment. For example, if you feel a nudge to open a children’s book, or something else you have deemed as irrelevant, do it anyway. Write down whatever you read or see which seems relevant. If it doesn’t seem relevant, I write it down anyway because it will most likely become relevant at the current sitting, or another time when I am looking back over my journal entries.
At this writing, I have used the following tools on some days over the past week: a spiritual card deck by Thich Nhat Hanh called Everyday Peace Cards; one of Langston Hughes’ poetry books, and a set of mindfulness cards given to me by a friend. With the cards, I will pick one randomly. With books, I will open to a page, randomly as well, or to a certain page upon “hearing” a number. When the Bible is what I am reaching for, a specific number will often come into my mind; for me, this generally is about opening to a certain Psalm. Some days, I “hear” something else, like recently on three separate days, I heard and wrote down the following: 1. “keep writing, Marie;” 2. “go swimming and bring water,” and 3. “do it today.” This last one was about making a donation.
Now that I have explained the structure of spiritual journaling, you will quickly notice in many of my writings that the first journal prompt is about things like what you remember, or how you feel, what are your preferences, and so on; the follow-up question, conversely, is always you asking God*, what you should know because the thrust of spiritual journaling is to involve your Something* on your journey.
It is really an amazing process because sometimes you will hear an answer immediately; sometimes you’ll feel called to wait in silence; sometimes you may hear nothing, but will be inspired to use a tool. If you are not sure what to use, let yourself be guided.
Where the magic happens is in the conversation that ensues. It is what you write next… like, “Oh, I see, I need to assume the role of the viewer instead of the victim of the story” ...” Psalm 29, yes, your voice is powerful, God, but I really don’t want to do what you are asking, because I am afraid” .... ”The poem on page 33, yes, I will write down this poem and create one of my own.”
For me, the answer is often about something I thought of while I was writing down other things from in my head and on my heart, but it is generally about that one thing I didn’t want to put down on paper. This is why I included the prompt above, “what am I not wanting to write about?” It is this item that we might need the most guidance and encouragement with, but for whatever reason, may not want to or be able to write about it. Even so, it is often what the answer is about. If you are able, at least write the answer down or the source and the page for the answer.
In a nutshell, then, the spiritual journaling process is writing down what’s on our hearts and then ASKING what else we should know, because spiritual journaling is journaling that asks SOMETHING greater than ourselves, SOMETHING other than what we can touch, see or hear, to help us become the most loving person, to ourselves, and everyone and everything else.
Why not give it a try!
*For this column, I want to define God by not defining God. I suggest that each of us use the term which feels most comfortable. I use God as a universal term. You may decide that Spirit, Great Spirit, Higher Power, Sensibility, Best Self, or SOMETHING else better suits you. It is not for me to decide what term you use. It is only for me to decide which term I use. I often use the term God.
Author bio: Marie Higgins left corporate America after more than 15 years in human resources management to pursue life. Before long she found massage therapy and became a nationally certified, state-licensed massage therapist. At the same time, she felt a partial hardening of the heart, figuratively and spiritually, so she found a spiritual coach to help, and became an active journaling person. Included in her journals are the gratitude lists that helped her heart soften and moved her to write poetry. In 2017 she included these poems in her debut book, Sprouting Spiritual Growth: A Memoir and a Guide to Spiritual Journaling. Since then Marie maintains a journaling practice that includes writing poetry whenever inspiration strikes. Marie lives in suburban Philadelphia with her husband, two young adult children and an active foxhound.