The fields of neurology and psychology tell us that journaling can be quite healthy for us emotionally, but in reading St. Augustine’s Confessions, I realized journaling can be good for us spiritually as well. St. Augustine wrote one of the most transformational texts in the Western Church, as a journal discussion with God. The whole working out of his text is him writing to God, as he searches for answers.
After I saw this in Confessions, I found in Henri Nouwen’s book Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith the idea of spiritual writing, which he tells us is:
Writing is a process in which we discover what lives in us. The writing itself reveals to us what is alive in us. The deepest satisfaction of writing is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us of which we were not aware before we started to write. To write is to embark on a journey of which we do not know the final destination.
Both of these writers are telling us, in their own way, about a form of prayer that can be quite transformative and is very different from any of these ways I have learned to pray. When we engage in spiritual writing, we are allowing ourselves access to a form of prayer that engages very different parts of us emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.
How does one go about spiritual writing? The important thing, to borrow from Voltaire, is to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
All we need is something to write with and something to write on. Pen and paper of any kind. I know, for myself, I can spend way too much time obsessing about exactly the right journal or exactly the right pen. This can become a form of accidie (boredom and dejection), so we need to be mindful of our excuses and press on. There are apps on our phones that can work as well, though writing by hand is likely better for us than typing. Find something to write with and something to write on.
Then start writing, remembering that your writing is for and to The Divine. Let your prayers, your concerns, your resentments all come forth and flow through you onto your paper. An important part of spiritual writing is to not hide anything from The Light. Don’t shy away from any of your darker thoughts, because it is only when they are acknowledged that they can be healed. Nothing is healed in darkness.
Or course, the best practice is to make this a regular, daily, habit. Don’t worry about that at first. Maybe start with writing once before St. Valentine’s Day, as a love letter to Love. Then again once each week through Lent. If you get in the habit of carrying paper with you, you’ll start finding times and excuses to engage in spiritual writing. You don’t have to write pages and pages. You might find it valuable to jot down a few lines before or after a meeting, after the kids go to bed, or any time you feel decentered. As you spend time praying in this way and it becomes easier, you can find more ways to incorporate time spiritual writing into your routine.