There’s always been a special place in the Catholic Church for the keeping of spiritual journals. Some of our most beloved saints, including St. Therese of Lisieux (her journal was published as The Story of a Soul) and St. Ignatius Loyola (whose journal became the Spiritual Exercises), kept spiritual journals.
Closer to our own time, Pope John XXIII kept a personal journal from when he was a teenager until he died, and Pope John Paul II’s personal notes are also soon to be published in English.
These journals were originally meant to be simply dialogues between individual souls and God; but they continue to be a source of inspiration and encouragement to millions of people who can grow and learn from these revelations of great saints’ interior lives.
So what exactly is a spiritual journal?
It’s not the same thing as a diary. A diary is a chronological accounting of daily events. A journal is much more: it’s a prayer, a capturing on paper of an interior dialogue between the writer and God.
This is clear in Gabrielle Bossis’ spiritual journal, He and I; it’s a back-and-forth between her and Jesus. Father Gaston Courtois kept notebooks that he carried around everywhere and that reflected his interior conversations with God; they later became When The Lord Speaks to Your Soul.
Most of us don’t hear Jesus’ voice as clearly as did these people. We all try; and sometimes, if we’re blessed and fortunate, we’re able to get a glimpse of that same light the saints were blinded by. But we can all still come closer to God through keeping a spiritual journal.
How do you do it?
Here’s what you’ll need:
- an empty notebook or journal. It can be as plain or as fancy as you’d like, but try to find one without too many distracting pictures and embellishments inside. You’re going to be listening hard for God’s voice, not trying to match your thoughts and prayers to some artist’s idea of what you should be writing.
- a couple of sturdy pens (so that you don’t have to interrupt your writing should the first one stop writing).
- a quiet place where you can be alone with God.
- a Bible and a favorite spiritual classic. We have some excellent choices if you don’t have one in mind: besides Gabrielle’s own He and I, we have Gaston Courtois’ When the Lord Speaks to Your Heart; Helena Burns’ He Speaks to You; and Jean LaFrance’s Pray to Your Father in Secret, which are all great places to start.
In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about writing early in the morning before the distractions of the day begin. She suggests thinking of what she calls “morning pages” as a form of meditation. Writing early in the day can be a way of finding your own quiet center, the place where you can hear your own voice and also the whispering of the Holy Spirit.
But if you’re not a morning person, then perhaps the quiet of the evening when all your tasks are finished—children in bed, dinner over, work completed—is a better time. Choose what makes sense for you.
How to use your spiritual journal
Start with prayer. Actually, that’s a good prescription for any endeavor: always start with prayer! Open yourself to God’s voice and sit still and silent before addressing him with words; God often speaks to us through silence. Wait, and listen. What is it that God wants of you at this moment, for this day, this month, this year?
Now take a few minutes to read. Read a passage from Scripture or a page or two from whatever book you’ve chosen to accompany your new practice. You may find that God’s voice will spring out at you as you read.
Finally pick up your new journal, ask for the Holy Spirit to guide you, and write whatever your prayer and your reading have inspired in you. Just write. Don’t be disappointed if it’s not deep, or interesting, or “important”—just write.
Don’t worry about making sense in your journal: this is between you and God, and God already knows what is in your heart. The journal is really for you, for clarifying your thoughts and beliefs, for exploring the depths of your relationship with God, for helping you make choices and decisions in your daily life. So don’t fret about spelling or grammar or whether your handwriting looks good. Just write.
If you get stuck or can't find time for your spiritual journal, don’t berate yourself. God understands. When you can, just reread the preceding pages and begin again. Relax! God is with you. You may not always find the words. You may not even find the message that you’re looking for. Don’t worry: that may be exactly what the message for this time is supposed to be!
Pray. Write. Read. Reflect. No matter what happens, never forget that any time spent with God in the quiet moments of your life is always time well spent.
Famous Spiritual Journals