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Food for Thought - Spiritual Formation



To the One Whom Jesus Loves,

In this letter we are continuing our theme of creativity and the spiritual life, remembering our original premise that as our internalization of God’s love for us and our love for God grow, we will become more free and creative in our interactions with God.

This month we move from creative writing as prayer to journaling
. I have deliberately placed journaling within the overarching theme of creativity in spirituality because journaling is a spiritual discipline where one's creativity can easily and safely be explored, developed and released. And yet I am painfully aware that for many, journaling is often viewed as a duty or self-initiated activity that is limited to writing/ typing.

As we begin, I strongly encourage you to see journaling not as something you force yourself to do but rather as an activity that spontaneously bursts forth from an encounter with God or an invitation from God that creates within you the desire to capture/record and explore that moment. Journaling is something that will naturally become a part of your love relationship with God as you tune your heart to listen intently to the whispers of God that come your way through the comings and goings of your life.

My hope in writing this is that it will help you to:

  • begin to see journaling as a natural response to a loving and wise God who continually seeks to communicate Godself and wisdom to God’s chosen ones

  • expand your view of journaling so that you feel free to experiment with more creative ways to record, capture and unpack your encounters with God.

Before I get into what this expanding perspective on journaling encompasses I want to answer three questions:

1. What is a ‘journaler’? A ‘journaler’ is one who journals. Now notice that this definition makes absolutely no mention of frequency or number of times the journaler journals. One of the great hindrances to journaling is the false idea that to be a journaler one must journal every day. This is not the case. A journaler is one who interacts with God and them self in a way that leaves behind evidence of the interchange. It may be done daily, weekly, monthly or even yearly (yearly may be stretching it a little but it sure beats once a decade).

2. What is journaling? Journaling is a response to the initiative of God to communicate/make God’s self known to us. It involves any means one uses to capture/record that interaction, yet it is also more than a mere capturing and recording, for it also affords the journaler an additional opportunity for further interaction with God and self. It will naturally occur when something in God’s Word or a song or creation or … touches something deep within us and we do not want to let it go or forget it, but instead desire to drink deeply from it, sit with it, and allow it to have its way with us.

3. Why is journaling important?

Morton Kelsey says, “Without a journal…we remain out of touch with large parts of ourselves” and I would add, “and out of touch with what God is up to in our lives”.

Journaling helps one to slow down enough to notice what God is inviting them into and what is happening within them.

Journaling helps one to become aware of and understand their unfolding story and discover where God is in that story.

Journaling helps one listen to and learn about them self/God and gives one direction and insight to live a more authentic life.

Journaling gives one an opportunity to ponder and savor the words of their Beloved to them.

Journaling can provide hope, perspective and encouragement as one journeys with God.

Journaling helps one to express to God and them self what is not safe to share with others – their deep desires, fears, anger and struggles, as well as their loftiest hopes and dreams.

Journaling is important because it provides an opportunity to interact with God and one’s self in a way that captures that interaction and thus can be used as a tool to continue to encourage, challenge and support one as they journey with God. It creates a spiritual mark on the wall that helps one become aware of their growth and development in Christ.

Before moving on I have one more bit of business I feel the need to take care of. Namely, I want to affirm the traditional form journaling takes using the written/typed word. I believe the traditional practice of journaling is a powerful tool in spiritual formation, for it can enable a person to unpack a passage and/or an encounter with God, express what one is feeling and/or dealing with, be a place to experience God in a deeper way, see God’s hand more clearly, and be honest and open in ways that one may not be comfortable doing with the spoken word. Personally, I do more traditional journaling than I do other more creative means of journaling, but what is important to remember is that this is not an either or choice one has to make. Both the traditional and creative forms can be incorporated into one’s journaling times.

Now, to move on to you and your journaling experience…

As you expand your concept of what journaling entails, you can be free to be more expressive and more honest with God and with your self and in turn be freed to a greater degree to experience and see the love and grace of God in your life. One of the great things about journaling (creative/traditional) is that it flows out of your love relationship with God and at the same time deepens and expands your love for God.

Some tips for those who struggle with traditional journaling:

When it comes to writing, some people are blocked because the writing is not what they think it should be. Here are some freedom giving tips when it comes to the traditional form of journaling

  • spelling and grammar do not matter
  • a word written is just as good as a page written (sometimes better)
  • if writing overwhelms you or your perfectionist tendencies keep you from traditional journaling, journal using a crayon or write with your non-dominant hand
  • experiment with a stream of consciousness way of writing -- just write, not knowing where you are headed but open to the leading and guiding of God’s Spirit

As you embrace greater freedom in how you write it can help you to escape the feelings of obligation and duty that are often associated with journaling and instead lead to a greater and deeper interaction with and appreciation of God.

Creative Journaling

Now let’s move on to creative forms of journaling. Journaling is not limited to using words but can include such things as making use of colors, pasting pictures, ‘collaging’, pressing flowers, painting, colored pencils, taking photos, video recording of a dance or a body prayer…the list can go on and on.

You will be drawn to journaling in these creative ways as you come to realize that mere words cannot begin to communicate/capture what is going on inside of you – your joy, sorrow, fear, delight or what God is communicating to you. You will intuitively know that colors, pictures, flowers, etc. can convey nuance truths that are able to bypass your mind and speak what is stirring within your heart and thus more authentically capture what is taking place deep within between you and God.

I have experienced the reality of this through a print of Rembrandt’s “The Prodigal” that hangs in my office. As I look at the father and son, it speaks beyond words to my heart of God’s grace, acceptance and love. I have also experienced this reality as I review my journal. As I do so I come across pages that contain only colors – some of which speak to me of great times of joy as the colors seem to dance full of life and hope on the page, while the colors on other pages communicate times of utter despair. As I look at the Rembrandt print or the pages of my journal I become acutely aware of the ability of images and colors to capture and communicate in ways that words cannot.

As you explore various ways to journal creatively, please remember this is not about variety being the spice of life but rather it is about giving you a variety of ways to capture, record and communicate your encounters with God and self that mere words are not able to adequately convey.

Exploring Additional Means of Journaling

  • Colors (markers, crayons, colored pencils, pastel oils…): this involves the use of colors to express what you may be feeling about an encounter with God through creation, the bible, a song, etc. It is not about drawing something, but using your choice of colors and where and how you place them on the page – short jagged strokes, long flowing lines, etc. Color can express feelings beyond words and just using colors, without specific form, helps to keep away the thoughts of ‘I can’t draw/paint’, because various colors are just being put on the page.

Sometimes as I read Scripture, a word or phrase will jump off the page and into my heart. When this happens I will use various colors to write those words in my journal, colors that seem to convey what I was feeling.

  • Pasting pictures: sometimes as I read a magazine I will come across a picture that communicates a spiritual truth I have been pondering. I will cut out the picture and paste it in my journal. I may or may not write about the picture and the truth it conveys to me.
  • Collaging: This takes pasting pictures to a whole new level. It involves creating a page that contains pictures and/or words cut from magazines. I am a big fan of collaging and approach it in a couple of ways.

I start with a theme such as ‘God loves me’ and then go through magazines, searching out pictures and/or words that seem to communicate that truth to my heart. I cut or tear out the pictures/words and put them aside, continuing the process until I feel I am done. I then go back and arrange the pictures/words on the paper, trimming as is necessary. After this, I take a break, then return and make final changes to my masterpiece. When this is done I begin to glue down the pieces, using a glue stick. Eventually I will take it to be laminated.

This is the same process as above but more open-ended. I prayerfully go through the magazines, choosing those pictures/words to which I am drawn, rip them out as I find them (I rip when I use this method because it is faster than cutting and does not allow me to think too long about what I am tearing out), then do the same with all the magazines I am using. When I feel I am done, I go through and organize what I have, looking for a theme(s) that emerges and then create a collage. Then I go back and arrange the pictures/words on the paper, trimming as is necessary. I take a break and then return to make final changes to my masterpiece. When that is finished I begin to glue down the pieces with a glue stick. I will eventually take it to be laminated. I have done this and have actually come up with two collages as this distinct themes arose during the process.

I have found that the standard size paper is not big enough for me so I use legal size and or even poster size. Two standard size sheets of paper can also be combined together. I have found that using heavy paper or even construction paper can be very helpful. I have also found that the Oprah magazine and the Martha Stewart magazine work well for making collages.

  • Pressing flowers/leaves: I have these in my journal and one in my Bible. Again, the leaf or flower spoke to me about God or me in a powerful way. I have a heart-shaped leaf that I keep in my Bible where the Isaiah 53 passage is – it reminds me of God’s love for me.
  • Painting: This is an excellent way to journal using images and colors to capture an interaction with God and one’s self. I use watercolors and finger-paint for this but you could also use oils. There is no rush in journaling this way – in fact you should allow ample time for this process. Also, remember you do not have to be a great artist to paint. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. I do choose to use watercolor paper if I use watercolors and I use big newsprint sheets if I am finger painting.
  • Colored pencils: There are cool watercolor colored pencils that come with blender pencils. I have found that these give my drawings the feel of using watercolors with beautiful results.
  • Drawing (pencil/charcoal): Sometimes not using color is what is needed to communicate what I am seeking to express.
  • Taking photos: This is so easy now with digital cameras. I have just started using photos in journaling. It is wonderful. I have a journal on my computer of just pictures, images that speak to me of God. There are stained glass windows, crosses, words, creation pictures, etc.

Also, pictures can be taken of some creative journaling projects (painting, collaging, drawing…), printed out, and included in a regular journal.

  • Some other ways of journaling would include video recording (body prayer, dance…), audio recording (sounds, musings, poems…) and the list can go on and on. With computers there can be photo, video and audio journals that can be continually added to. These would be powerful and dynamic ways to journal life with God.

As far as hard copy journals go, I have a number of different size journals that I have used for a variety of purposes. In one I do most of my creative writing/journaling, in another drawing/painting, and in yet another special paper for finger painting and collaging. I favor unlined journals because for me they feel like they give me more freedom.

As you can see there are many different ways to journal. The important thing to remember is that journaling in not a duty or self-initiated activity and does not have anything to do with frequency/number of times it is done. Journaling is a response to God’s initiative in your life and naturally flows out of your love relationship with God. Journaling is an act of love that flows from a desire to capture/record your encounters with your Beloved and yourself. It can lead to a deepening of that encounter and a greater ability to know and experience yourself and God in life-transforming ways.

I encourage you to try your hand at a number of these creative ways to journal. You may discover something that allows you to express your heart in surprisingly deep ways. Resist the fears and voices that tell you to play it safe and instead listen to the invitation of God to explore and be creative – a whole new world may open before you and within you as you leave the comfy confines of the known and enter into the possibilities of the unknown. Life- giving freedom and transforming insights might be just around the corner as you allow your love for God to guide and direct you into creative ways to journal.

together on the journey,

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