“I love to tell the story” — so goes the classic hymn.
Telling a story is very much a part of what it means to be human.
When we see a friend or someone we love for the first time in a while, we ask, “How are you?” or “How are things?”
It’s an invitation for the loved one to tell us a little bit about their story.
Jesus was a storyteller.
What are the parables but insightful, meaningful stories?
Couldn’t Jesus have given his disciples detailed instructions in theology or philosophy? Well, sure, but he knew he could get his point across much more dynamically by saying “There was a man who had two sons…” or “A sower went out to sow…”
Storytelling shows up in the teachings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, in the legends of the Celtic saints, and in good sermons preached by parsons and pastors ever since.
Stories matter because they are relatable, memorable, and use ordinary life to communicate spiritual truths.
But storytelling isn’t just for preachers and teachers.
It’s a tool that ordinary Christians can use to understand, appreciate, and deepen our own relationship with God.
And the easiest way anyone can explore the power of storytelling in a personal way is by keeping a spiritual journal.
So what is a “spiritual journal”?
Keeping a journal or diary is a long-standing practice for personal insight and reflection.
Many famous Christians have kept journals, such as George Fox, Thomas Merton, or Thérèse of Lisieux.
But journaling is for everyone, not just the big names.
A journal is a private tool for recording our thoughts, impressions, feelings, and experiences as we live from day to day.
In other words, a journal is a private forum for telling our stories.
They don’t have to be “fancy” stories or have great literary merit — just the ordinary, down-to-earth, everyday stories of our lives.
What makes it a spiritual journal is whenever a journal-keeper includes God, faith and prayer as ongoing topics for the journal.
A spiritual journal doesn’t have to be limited to spiritual topics — but it does make sure to include such topics on an ongoing basis.
Teenagers know that keeping a diary can be a helpful way to sort out feelings when navigating the worlds of friendships, crushes, and romantic relationships.
For adults, a spiritual journal is a place to explore the most mysterious but beautiful relationship of all: our relationship with God.
Keeping a spiritual journal can be a meaningful and insightful way to deepen our understanding of how God is present in our lives.
It can help us to recognize how God can be found in any (and every) aspect of life.
It can be a place for recording our prayers — as well as what my wife calls “A2Ps” or “answers to prayer.”
A spiritual journal can be a place to count our blessings, to remember everyone we are praying for, and to give thanks for all the miracles, big and small, that come our way.
It can also be a safe forum for exploring the more challenging areas of life, including conflicts with loved ones, illness, suffering, and even our doubts or frustrations with God (yes, God can take it when we are honest about our spiritual struggles).
Especially by keeping a journal private and safe, it can be the ideal forum for working through the challenges of life, hopefully in dialogue with the God who loves us unconditionally.
If you keep a journal, I hope you have already experienced some of the many joys and benefits of journal-keeping.
If you are new to journaling, I hope you will give it a try.
There is no one “right” way to keep a journal.
Some people write pages and pages in every entry, others keep it as concise as possible.
Some people never miss a day; others only journal when the inspiration hits them.
Some never share their journal with anyone else, others find it meaningful to share their writing with a close friend or spiritual director.
It’s your journal, so you get to decide what to do with it.
CTS’s Center for Lifelong Learning encourages the participants in its program to become familiar with writing their own “spiritual autobiography” and to consider journaling as a spiritual practice.
To support both beginning and seasoned journal-keepers, we are offering a four-week online course starting September 30, 2019, called Your Sacred Story: The Spiritual Practice of Journaling.
In this course, we will offer regular prompts and tips for writing in your journal, and for fostering a regular practice of journal-keeping.
No one is required to share their journal entries with the course participants, but we all do offer support and encouragement to one another as we explore the practical and spiritual aspects of writing your unique, sacred story.
To learn more about this program, or to register, click here.
Please note that the course size is limited so we recommend enrolling early.
Carl McColman is a contemplative writer, speaker, retreat leader and spiritual companion. He is the author of several books, including Befriending Silence, Answering the Contemplative Call, and The Big Book of Christian Mysticism. His writing appears in the Huffington Post, Contemplative Journal, Patheos, as well as his own blog on Christian spirituality and contemplative living, www.carlmccolman.net.