Journaling is a centuries-old practice that can enrich your self-understanding and improve your spiritual life. If the thought of keeping a daily journal seems a little daunting, you’re not alone. Many practitioners felt the same way until they became more familiar with this form of soul work. Just find a quiet, comfortable spot away from distracting noise and follow these simple guidelines.
1. Draw your inspiration from many sources: You’ll need a number of different sources of inspiration, starting with the Bible. The translation featured on the site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is the New American Bible. In addition, you might want to link to another online meditation resource such as Minute Meditations. If you’re looking for printed material, be sure to visit the Free Catholic Sampler site.
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Many people draw inspiration from best-selling Christian authors such as Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, C. S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and Fulton Sheen.
Of course, you can also join a Christian book club and receive new selections monthly along with a newsletter and access to an online discussion group.
And you can always subscribe to printed daily devotionals such as Living Faith.
2. Choose a suitable journal: Journals come in a wide variety of formats. They can be as simple as a three-ring binder and as fancy as a leather book with handmade paper pages. There is even software for journaling on your computer. Your computer entries remain private, secure and easily retrievable by date or by subject (which comes in handy when you are looking for trends in your thinking). Some printed journals include quotes and images to prod your thinking, which can be especially helpful for newcomers to journaling. But the quote-a-day format can pose an artificial limit on the length of your entries so you may prefer a simple, but sturdy cloth or leather bound book with a spiral spine in which the lined pages lie flat when the book is open. Books with lined pages are preferable because it is easier to write legible, lengthy entries. The journal should fit comfortably on your lap or on a desk tray when opened and it should store easily in a desk drawer (away from curious eyes).
3. Create a daily ritual: Try to develop the habit of blocking out 30-45 minutes every day, when you’re fresh, clear-headed and alert. Some people prefer to write at night; others prefer the first thing in the morning. Simply choose a time that’s best for you. If you miss a few days, be gentle with yourself; just pick-up where you left off. It helps to follow a ritual that will put you in the right frame of mind. For instance, some people light a scented candle and have instrumental music playing softly in the background. To compose your thoughts and remind yourself whose presence you are in, ask the Holy Spirit to inspire and guide you. Then begin by reading a passage from the Bible or a daily devotional aid followed by a few moments of reflection on how it applies to your life.
4. Read slowly, and reflectively: The key to working with reference materials is to read slowly, even aloud, underlining or highlighting passages that trigger thoughts you may want to journal about. If a topic sparks your interest, you can also use your computer’s search engine to research it further on the Internet. Bookmark pages of interest or run off hard copies to file in a folder for future reference when journaling.
5. Write quickly: Start each day’s entry on a separate page, dated at the top so you can later find out how your thinking has changed over time. Just below the date, add a sentence or two about what’s happening in your life on that particular day. Then drop down a line and add a relevant inspirational quote culled from the Bible or your reference material. Expand on that thought in your own words, writing quickly, allowing your opinions, thoughts, and feelings to flow freely in a stream-of-consciousness style. Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation; you’re not writing great literature. If you encounter writer’s block, write down your hopes, dreams, and goals. Make a list of your talents, and of the people who have mentored you, people, you admire. Make a list of things you are grateful for. The length of your journal entries will vary from day to day, depending on what’s going on in your life, but most days you should be able to fill one or more pages with your thoughts and feelings. End each entry with a brief, one or two line summary of what you’ve learned in your reflection.
6. Use your journal as a road map for your spiritual journey: Keep in mind that a spiritual journal differs from a traditional diary in that the focus is not solely on you, but on you and your relationship with the Lord. It’s not meant to be a chronological recital of the events of your life, but rather an exploration of how God is revealing Himself and His plan for your life, day by day. Write the words to your favorite prayers and what they mean to you. Enter your prayer requests as well as the answers to your prayers. Stay with the same general theme for several days so as to get beyond surface impressions and plumb your deepest thoughts and feelings. For the most part, you will write in the first person when expressing your thoughts and feelings, but at times, you may find it helpful to switch to the second person singular or third person singular. In effect, you’ll be writing as if Jesus were talking to you; your entries will read like an interview or dialog with God.
7. Review your entries periodically: Re-read your journal entries every month to see if you are making any spiritual progress or whether some unresolved issues need your attention. If you feel comfortable doing so, share selected journal entries with your spouse or a spiritual counselor and get feedback.