A Journey of Thankfulness.

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In a previous post I discussed what I did to set up a new Spiritual Journal and that his year I was going to use it to set myself a challenge. Now that we are over half way through the year, I was just reflecting on how its been so far and what I hope for the rest of the year.

At the beginning of the year when I started a new journal, I set myself the task of practicing more thankfulness. Each day I would record the thing that I was thankful for. Sounds like a simple task right? But actually saying thank you and being thankful is not as easy of a journey as it sounds.

Starting out with a blank canvas for month it seemed quite daunting. What would the month look like when it was finished? Could I allow myself to be thankful for the same thing multiple times in the month? Should I fill in days that I miss afterwards? Would putting rules and restraints on it remove the purpose?

When we come to God in prayer we tend to get into the habit of using our prayer life as a wishlist for God. Its easy to sit down and start listing all the things that we wish were different before recognising the things that are going well.  It isn’t a bad thing for us to bring our needs and concerns to God, but it is easy to lose sight of the things that God is actually providing for us. In this modern world we are always looking out for the next thing that will improve our lives. We want to see results quickly, we cant wait for the light to turn green of its own accord, we have to wish it. We should slow down, and realize that things run on God’s timing and not our own.

I decided that this would work best if I just went with the flow. I wasn’t going to get annoyed at myself if I missed some days. Journaling within its self is a discipline that I can only manage if I keep it undemanding. Over the first month, I found that the thing I was most thankful for was the people around me. I know that sometimes I do forget just how blessed I am with all my friends, so it felt right to document those people in my journal. 2016-07-30 07.30.52 111I can even remember what happened that day with those people.

It also taught me to be thankful for theological college and for all its weird and wonderful things. The start of the second term felt hard. Going back after the Christmas break was like being thrown right back into it. I had a Hospice placement almost as soon as we started back which really made me think about thankfulness.  Some of it is also about seeing the things within myself that other people do. I often don’t just give myself enough credit for things like preaching a good sermon. Those things are important to be thankful for too. Whats the point of having these gifts if they are not utilized and used with gratification.

Thankfulness is not an easy task. Sometimes it is very difficult. Our personal difficulties and the sadness of life can become overwhelming, and there were/are days that I struggle to be thankful.  Some months have been left almost totally blank. But that is why thankfulness is a journey. It is one of the things within my relationship with God that I will always be working on.

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God continues to surprise me with this challenge, and I will probably carry on this new discipline into my next journals. Thankfulness is something that I will continue to journey on. There will never quite be enough thankfulness within me to compare with the love that God gives us all, but hopefully with this new discipline I can get a bit closer.

 

Peace and Joy.

 

Setting up/Starting a new Spiritual Journal.

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I aim to fill a journal completely (except for a few pages which I keep intentionally blank). But sometimes I feel that I’m at a point either in the calendar or in my Spiritual life that I need to start a new one. I started my most recent journal with when I want to BAP in April. So that it didn’t feel like I was carrying around everything that had happened before.

I’ve kept a journal for over 5 years now, so I’ve gotten into habits of what I do to ‘set up’ a new one. I always begin the process of setting up the new one, even if I haven’t finished the one I am on. This just means that it is ready for me when I decide to come to start in the new one. Seeing as it is a new year soon, it may be that you are deciding to take up journalling, so hopefully this will give you a few ideas as to how to ‘set up’ your journal.

Deciding what kind of book to use.

I have always preferred to have blank pages in my journals. It allows for me to both write and draw should I wish. I also wanted pages that weren’t too thick. With some handmade journals, the pages are too thick and would feel to precious to use.

When I first started journalling I felt drawn to this red felt covered book with an embroidered bird on the front. Thankfully it completely suited my purpose, and I now continue to buy that same type of notebook just with different covers.
Paperchase, Paperblanks  and Moleskin all over several kinds of notebooks with everything from lined pages to blank , colourful covers to plain and big to small. The essence of beginning with journalling is to find a book that you will enjoy writing in.
Don’t be concerned if you don’t find something works for you straight away. Honestly, I have a few books that I have only written in on the first few pages because I end up disliking it. It’s important not to throw these away!

Adam Feldman in his book Journaling: Catalyzing Spiritual Growth Through Reflection talks alot about his love for moleskin journals. He even has a whole appendix about how he ‘sets up’ too. He prefers something small and portable, which is favourable if you are a plain ‘pen and paper’ journaler.
As for me I want something a little more robust and special. If I want to write whilst without my journal, then I will on a separate bit of paper and then stick it in later. I like to take the time with my journal and my art supplies when I can. So for me its important to have a journal that will stand up to my creativity.

The key is to get a balance between a book that you really love, but one that you will feel able to use. Everyone is unique! The kind of notebook you will want will be different because your type of journalling will be different.

The Front.

One of the biggest prompts for me to get serious about journalling was a means to explore my calling. After a little while I jokingly wrote ‘Discernment, denial and despair’ in the front cover and it kinda stuck. Since then my journals have been different volumes of that title. Perhaps when I move onto a new season I will pick a new title.

Not everyone has to title their journal in such a way, but it is helpful to have some way in knowing what time frame is represented in the journal. Particularly if you use moleskin notebooks without any distinguishable way of telling the difference. If you are looking for an entry from a particular date then a small date acknowledgement is handy.  I date all of my entries anyway, but this just helps knowing what year it is, or where I am geographically.

The Back.

The first thing I do in the back of a new journal is set aside a page or two for the titles of books I’m reading.
It helps me to see what texts are influencing my thought at any time. Sometimes I will write notes/quotes from the book in my normal journal pages, so it is helpful to remember if I read the whole thing or just picked up the quote somewhere.

Particularly useful as you can see from some of my previous journals I read Michael Ramseys ‘Christian Priest Today’ twice, but my notes from each reading are totally different.  It is also an encouragement to read more. If I get to the end of a journal and I haven’t read all that much then it gives me a target to read X number of books more then the last one!  So it is always helpful to note what you are reading!

Setting a challenge

I know that for some people journalling in itself will be a challenge, but if you’ve been journalling for a while then it might be time to take up a challenge.

Someone I knew from university used to keep a gratitude section at the back of her journal, and when something happened that she was specifically thankful for she would write it down. I’m challenging myself to do something similar and try and write something I am thankful for everyday. As I’ve said before, I am rubbish when it comes to committing to a daily activity. But hopefully even if I don’t get to journal properly,  I can take 5 minutes to be thankful about the blessings in my life and record that in my journal. Its one of my Spiritual New Years Resolutions!

The intentionally blank pages.

A big part of journalling is the reflection. Every now and again coming back to your journal entries and looking back on what was resonating with you at the time.
I leave about 10 pages (20 sides) at the back of the journal blank for reflection at later times.

It’s useful when I come to certain prayers/trains of thought and I wonder where I first prayed that. I can use the pages at the back as a means to communicate with myself. For instance if I find that a bible verse is really sticking me then I can write that in the back of my current journal with references to my other journals. Or sometimes I will read through a whole journal and put my thoughts down on that time on one of those back pages.

Adding Personal Touches.

If you are just setting up a new journal for the first time, and you arent too creative then think about putting something simple in your journal like a prayer card.

I like to put a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe in each journal, whether stuck down or just loose. It’s usually the last thing to go in before writing, so it signifies the ‘handover’ between journals. If you are using a loose postcard/prayer card/picture then you can always transfer it over when you move onto a new journal as a nice way to keep something continuous.

For some reason I also collect the stamps from the cards/letters that I recieve that year and put them on one of the covers. Not sure why but it adds a personal touch!

The most important thing about journalling is that the journal you use should feel like yours. These are just some of the ways in which I set up a new journal, but you may have your own ways.

Remember if it is your first journal, or fiftieth the important thing is to make your journal yours. 

 

Peace and Joy.

The place of art within Spiritual Journaling.

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Quite often one of the biggest responses I get from people when I try to tell them about spiritual journaling is that they feel that they couldn’t write everyday. My answer is usually ‘Why does it have to be words?’

There are so many times in which I find that words don’t quite cut it. Either I cant find my own words and so I need to borrow some from scripture or worship song lyrics. Or I cannot cope with the medium of words at all and I need to express what is going on with my relationship with God in art. To some people this might seem like such a strange concept and to others it will open up some new dimension about their relationship with God that they haven’t thought about before.

For the most part I think we are okay with the idea of liturgical art. Art that conveys an idea of God that helps us to connect with Him, whether they be through icons or more contemporary mediums. But rarely do we find that creating art is seen as a spiritual practice. Particularly when it is ‘free flowing’.

The joy of spiritual journaling is that there are no rules. What we do in our journals is completely between us and God. Therefore there shouldn’t be any expectations about what our journals should look like. Some people find it easiest to journal just through words, and that is great. But for me personally, I have found introducing creativity and art into my journaling one of the best things I have done.

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This is from one of the first journals I kept in 2009.

My own journey to prayerful artwork began with bible verses and worship songs. If I liked a verse/lyrics that I had heard in church or elsewear I would write it down in my journal. Then I started to decorate the page and adorn the words until eventually it started to become more and more elaborate.

It doesn’t mean that I always will do things with paint. Often I still find myself going back to my favourite pen and just frantically writing words.  I just want to get across that if you are interested in journalling then there is no need to self impose rules. Its your journal, its for you. Once you realise that it is all about what you need and want it to be then it becomes so much more of a freeing exercise rather then a chore.

 

I have very little artistic talent, so much so that I often use pictures from magazines ect as inspiration. But it does take alot to realise that things dont have to be perfect. There is the odd occasion where I will get really frustrated with myself and tear a page out of my journal, but I always regret it.

2015-11-18 02.07.33 1.jpgI suppose I am also aware that there is some stigma around spirituality and art. In that some people can see it as something almost contemptuous but generally I find that those people are very happy to have a conversation with me about my artwork and have usually changed their opinion afterwards.  I have always been of the belief that you must do the things that help you connect with God. And if that is through journaling and art then great and if not then that is also great. We need to show some kindness to our brothers and sisters in Christ who use will use both deeply liturgical or unusual forms of prayer also.

 

I hope that if you are interested in journaling/ prayerful art that you will take this as some encouragement to go for it! Remember that there are no rules and that it is purely to benefit your relationship with God.

 

Peace and Joy.

Who? What? When? Where? Why? – An introduction to Spiritual Journaling.

What?

Most people use a journal or a diary as a way of being able to record daily events in their lives. Spiritual Journaling is different but the basics are similar.

Whilst a diary will be a open account of the details of someones life, a journal has an intentional nature to it which focuses on the thoughts and feelings of a person during that time. With a spiritual journal the deeper focus will be on the persons connections and encounters with God.

When?

When is a good time to journal? Well the question should really be when is it not a good time to journal?
Whenever you feel that you need to. There have even been times when I have scribbled notes down on some scrap paper in my bag in order to stick them into my journal at a later date. It is all about being prompted by the spirit. For some it might be helpful to designate time daily to journal, for others this can be seen as restrictive and is upsetting when we fail to meet that ambition. The beauty of spiritual journalling is that it can work with your personal spiritual habits and disciplines.

Where?

You should journal somewhere comfortable and relaxing without distraction. It should also be somewhere where you feel able to write freely without another person looking over your shoulder. Coffee shops can provide a great place to ‘disappear’ into the background, whilst ones office or bedroom can offer more privacy.

Why? 

Why people use a spiritual journal will differ with each person. Some may wish to use it more like a prayer journal, as a way of binding all their prayers together so that they can be reflected on at a later date. Some may use a journal to record the encounters they have with God during worship.  I have kept spiritual journals for as long as I have been a Christian and the reasons why I’ve been using them have changed over the years.  It had helped me to reflect back on a season in my spiritual life and pick up on the ways that God has been moving in my life that I may not have noticed the first time around.

There is so much about spiritual journalling that I wish to share. It has been one of the few spiritual disciplines that has kept me sustained and in-touch with God even when everything else had become difficult. After writing this introduction I hope to write later posts to go into some more detail about spiritual journalling and the joys that it can bring. I wish to share some my experiences with journaling so that it might encourage and challenge others who haven’t journaled before, or even those who have been journaling for years.

Peace & Joy.