Monday, October 24, 2011

"Journaling as a Spiritual Practice" by Helen Cepero

TITLE: Journaling as a Spiritual Practice: Encountering God Through Attentive Writing
AUTHOR: Helen Cepero
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Press, 2008.

Write with a purpose toward knowing God and self. This is the key theme in this book. The author is a director for Spiritual Formation, and shares brilliant insights on how journaling can become a spiritual practice. She writes:
All spiritual disciplines and practices, including journaling, are about learning to be aware and awake, open to God, ourselves and the world around us. Journaling is meant to give clarity to your day and rest to your night, reminding you even when you are not writing in your journal that God is there with you, in and through it all.” (12)
The purpose:

“Our true goal is a deeper relationship with the God who longs to meet us at the heart of all that we were and are and hope to be. Attention to our own reality - our dreams and our wounds, our desires and our hopes, our friends and our enemies, our past, our present and our future - is not for its own sake, but to tune our hearts to hear God’s transforming Word for us.” (12)
Unlike general writing, spiritual journaling begins with God. When one writes, one writes by honing attentiveness on the presence of God, expressed through our writing.
Like all spiritual practices, it begins with the trust that God is active at the heart of our lives and the life of the world. It begins with our openness to trusting in the transforming power of Christ’s Spirit to lead us closer to our true selves and to God. As we regularly and intentionally pray in this way, we discover that ‘God is already present in the hidden depths of the present moment; it is just because we were skimming along across the surface of what is happening that we were unable to know and rest in that presence.’” (20)
About the Book
The author begins with an introduction of what journaling as a spiritual practice looks like, giving tips as to the timing, the place, the kinds of journal materials, and suggestions for overcoming the writer’s block.

In chapter 2, she urges us to just start writing.
Doubt, fear, faith struggles and feelings of insignificance can all cripple our journaling practice if they stay locked within us. But if we allow all of this to flow out of us and onto the page, we just might find our way through to a life lived with God, as well as a new sense of self-knowledge. If we wait until we can get our faith lives ‘right’ or make sure our motivations are unmixed or keep our minds and hearts clear, we will never begin a true spiritual practice at all. The journal is a starting place for dealing with all the faith struggles that are still going on, the doubts that linger and the fears that lurk. Saying them ‘aloud’ on the page helps us find the courage to continue, courage that is rooted not in our personal effort but in God’s eternal love for each of us.” (30)

In chapter 3, Cepero starts by noticing how God pays attention to us, and that we need to learn to exercise that attentiveness to God and to ourselves too. She points out 2 possible threats to our journaling experience. The first is the ‘censor’ that threatens to slice off part of our story. The second is the inner critic that undermines our writing.

Chapter 4 moves from noticing to honouring one’s story. One of the problems Christians face is the lack of self-esteem, that one is not significant. The author guides one to appreciate one’s name, as well as how God ‘named’ us. It is less of how we are searching for God, but a matter of how we are found by God.

Chapter 5 provides some writing guidelines to engage God via focus, free writing, mapping one’s life and context, recognize changes, and accepting invitations from God to approach Him.

Chapter 6 is a practical help regarding how our physical body conditions affect our writing.

Chapter 7 is a retrospective journey to our past where one learns to illuminate one’s past with thanksgiving, with naming our moments, with learning to let go or to hold on, and to discern God’s voice.

Prayer of Examen is a gentle summary: “Praying for light, looking back in thankfulness, praying into the heart of the day, and letting go and holding on.” (81)

Chapter 8 shows that journaling can also look forward. One can write up a to do list, and to reflect on the meaning and purpose of it. In learning to wait and hope, one plants the seeds of faith by believing that God will speak forward in due time. Just like the disciples who did not understand the word on their way to Emmaus. Until they met Jesus who explains the Scripture to them.

In chapter 9, readers learn to examine the present too. It can be used like a compass to know where is one now. Based on Jer 6:16, the author guides readers to look at South, East, West and North. South is ‘the direction of sunny exposure - the direction of creativity, imagination, spontaneity and play.’ (94)

East is ‘the direction of the dawn, the rising sun. It is the perspective of new beginnings.’ (95)

“Ask yourself: What light is just beginning to appear on my horizon? What am I being asked to take hold in a new way? Where am I being called to embrace something? What areas in my life need change or transformation? As you look to the east, remember that beginnings are usually small and can seem almost insignificant.” (95)

West is the ‘direction of the setting sun’ on a perspective that indicates endings and letting go. (96)

North helps keep the other perspectives aligned, as a navigational north star. This is the guiding light, representing the ‘stabilizing forces’ showing us where we are and where we ought to go.

She ends with the center that is at the middle of the compass, saying it is the human person in the center, us that moves with God.

Through dialoging, embracing the Cross, seeing God in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary, one journeys the faith.

{journaling allows us to remember old histories with new insights.}

She ends with 6 fork-roads that require each journaler to maker a decision.
  1. Is journaling a distraction away from God or attentiveness toward God?
  2. “Is this a critic, or is this a mentor?”
  3. “Is this being rooted, or is this being stuck?”
  4. “Is this foolish or is this faith’s sake?”
  5. Is this a stumbling block or opportunity for growth?
  6. “Detour or home?”
My Comments

A book like this is rare. We have many books in the market that teach techniques, writing styles, overcoming writer's blocks and tools to aid writing. Yet, very rarely do we find books that uses journaling/writing as a spiritual practice. Cepero helps us by showing us how the simple act of writing and journaling can become a holy exercise of focusing our attention toward God. I like the gradual movement from life to paper, from paper to history, from history to future, and then back to the present. I appreciate the way Cepero uses the compass, asking us to begin with the South, East, the West and letting the North be the guiding light that brings everything together. Integrative spirituality is such an important part of spiritual discipline. I am glad Cepero has done this well. Very well.

There is a minor suggestion for improvement. Cepero will do well to expand her work to include the latest technological tools, like the Internet, blogging, social networking, on how one can use technology to facilitate journaling. Perhaps, the author can write a book: "Blogging as a Spiritual Practice?"

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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