Day 18 | 31 days of St Ignatius 2018
Keeping a reflective journal
There are many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe ... John 20:30-31
Keeping a reflective prayer journal can be a great aid towards growth in the spiritual life. Over time it offers a record of experiences that you have had, and what you and God have made of them as they happened. This means that looking back it becomes easier to see how and where you have changed, in outlook or in patterns of behaviour. Such changes are often so slow and almost imperceptible that they can easily go unnoticed.
It is good to notice what such a journal is not. It is not simply a diary, recording in more or less detail the events of each day. It is not a list of things to do, or of tasks accomplished. Nor is it a record of the books you've read, the films you've watched, or the insights that have occurred to you. Yet it may contain elements of all of these.
One way of understanding what to record in such a journal is to ask yourself: 'What has stirred me up, has moved me, over the period that I am considering?' This puts you in touch with what Ignatius Loyola would call 'movements of spirits', and which he
saw as being indicators of God at work in a person's life. What has moved you might be a conversation you have had; a book that you've read; a situation that you have encountered; a piece of work that you have done; etc. The journal offers you a chance to explore in more detail, with God, what the happening meant to you. It helps to avoid the feeling that T.S. Eliot notes: 'We had the experience, but missed the meaning'.
Some questions that might help you begin to journal:
- What was the experience that moved you?
- What went on in you as it was happening?
- What feelings, emotions, or memories did it evoke?
- What stays with you now, as you write, from the experience?
- Is there anything that God might be showing you in all this?
There are also separate exercises, or techniques, that you might want to incorporate into a journal of this kind. Examples would be:
- Keeping a record of your times of formal prayer
- Constructing an imaginary dialogue with God, or with someone important to you
- Working through a question facing you, or a situation challenging you
- Exploring further a significant experience from your past, in the light of where you now find yourself
A key value in all of this is that you end up with a concrete record 'out there', something tangible that you can repeatedly return to.