“Teach Us to Pray: Journaling,” by Father James Martin, S.J.
Many Catholics keep a journal to record the fruits of their prayer. This is a surprisingly useful spiritual practice, since as time passes we naturally tend to forget what God has revealed to us. After all, even the disciples were prone to forgeting what Jesus had done — often right in front of them.
This forgetting may stem from plain old laziness, or more likely from a fear of responding to what we’ve learned in our spiritual lives. (If we remember what God has revealed to us, we might have to change!) Keeping a written record reminds us of God’s activity in our lives; and by looking backward we can gain confidence in the future.
Writing a journal also has a distinguished history in the lives of the saints, from St. Augustine to Blessed John XXIII to Servant of God Dorothy Day. Day once wrote (in her journal) that a journal helps us see how various problems “evaporate” over time.
Today this form of writing is often referred to as “journaling.” This means that the writing itself is a form of prayer. It includes such practices as writing a letter to God, imagining a conversation between you and God, listing those things for which you are grateful, or starting with a question like “What do you want me to do for you?” and then writing an answer in God’s voice. So the next time you find yourself stuck in prayer, pick up a paper and pen. Or fire up your computer and start typing.
James Martin, S.J., is author of Between Heaven and Mirth [link], The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything [link], and My Life with the Saints [link].