For many, the spiritual life may not seem to require the presence of a writing utensil, but some Catholic groups are encouraging journaling in connection with one’s faith to bring about fruitful spiritual progress in the lives of individual Catholics.
Researchers have claimed a variety of physical and emotional health benefits are associated with journaling, like faster recovery from injury, reduced stress and boosted confidence and brainpower. The practice is also expected to improve relationships, but what about one’s relationship with God?
Journaling Through Scripture
Blessed Is She, a Catholic women’s community committed to deepening a life of prayer through daily Scripture devotionals and supportive sisterhood, recently released The Catholic Journaling Bible, in collaboration with Our Sunday Visitor, after many requests for it from ladies in the fellowship community.
Beth Davis, director of ministry advancement for Blessed Is She, loves the Bible’s beautiful aesthetic and helpful format. “Each page has only a single column of text, as compared to the standard two. There is a large margin on every page with very light lines to make note-taking, drawing or journaling easier,” Davis said. But her favorite part of the new Bible is the hand-lettered verses in each book, which she hopes will also be “an encouragement and a timely reminder of God’s love and presence to everyone who reads them.”
Davis has noticed spiritual growth over the years through the use of journaling in her prayer time. “I have kept prayer journals for more than a decade, so writing notes and prayers in my Bible always felt natural. I treasure the notes, references, underlines, highlights, stars and exclamation points because they remind me of the many times the Lord has spoken to me through his word.”
Kassie Manning had always aspired to journal, but was often intimidated by a blank page. When she and her friend Christie Peters were in a Bible study together and discussed with some friends the desire to improve recall about the Sunday readings and homily, the two women partnered together to create Every Sacred Sunday, a Mass journal designed to help Catholics celebrate the Mass.
“Today’s world is so loud, and so many things demand our attention,” Peters explained. “We hope that Every Sacred Sunday provides an opportunity for people to engage with Scripture and reorient themselves [each week] toward Christ.”
The journal contains full Mass readings for each Sunday and holy days of obligation in the liturgical year, as well as journaling space to reflect on Scripture and to take notes on the homily. It’s meant to be a respite in the midst of a busy week, using journaling to slow one’s thoughts and refocus them on prayer and spiritual growth.
As Manning described, “We hope that, regardless of what else is happening in someone’s life, the moment they open their journal they are drawn into the love story that God has written for us.”
Ruminating versus Journaling
Journaling doesn’t have to always include a Bible or a Mass journal to still remain a helpful aid in growing in faith and working through challenging life situations, but it does help to know a little about the psychology behind it, the “how-to” of effective journaling.
“For the most part, when we think about something ‘in our heads,’ we end up ruminating, turning the problem around and around in our minds without ever effectively identifying solutions, a plan or any resources to assist us,” explained Gregory Popcak, executive director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute (CatholicCounselors.com).
This is where journaling, even during prayer, can be especially helpful in discerning what’s going on in one’s life and how to respond to it in the light of faith. “Journaling (in all its varying forms) activates a different part of our brain,” Popcak told the Register. “Ruminating stimulates our emotional brain, the limbic system, which just reacts to problems but is incapable of solving them. Journaling stimulates our thinking brain, our cortex, which allows us to perceive a situation more objectively, think more critically and evaluate our experience more productively.”
This is where the real growth in spirituality and relationships can happen. Popcak recommends briefly writing out one’s ruminations and then, with eyes closed, asking God to provide the grace to see the situation through his eyes, before rereading the ruminations as if they were written by a friend and not by you. Then, he recommends, “Write back to that ‘friend.’ Don’t try to talk them out of their feelings. Acknowledge the problem, but suggest some ways to look at the situation that might enable your ‘friend’ to seek solutions, gather resources or take the next step in trying to address the situation productively and gracefully. You’d be surprised how transformative this simple process can be.”
Most of Popcak’s books employ some type of journaling exercise. Interested readers may want to consider his works Broken Gods: Hope, Healing and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, a book on getting past the sins and hurts that prevent us from loving ourselves as God loves us, and God Help Me! This STRESS Is Driving Me Crazy, a book about managing the stressful events of life more effectively.
“Journaling is an enormous part of my spiritual life,” said Peters. “I believe there is so much power in putting pen to paper and giving those thoughts a place to go. It’s helped me unpack parts of my life that weren’t making sense. And I often find that truths are revealed to me throughout the process.”