Thursday, June 09, 2005

Prayer Journals (or just plain journals)

Somebody emailed me last week, asking if I could discuss how to keep a prayer journal, and I find it's an intriguing request.

Now, folks like me just can't keep from pondering and what-if-ing and writing it down, in well-hidden or firmly locked books or binders --- after all, there's an entire industry dedicated to making books with key locks and "blank books" and ledger books with a date at the top of each page just for those folk like me who also have a little money. I was only 9 when I discovered that the little tear in my vinyl headboard cover was just right for hiding a steno book from snooping younger siblings.

[not even to mention the Blogger tool itself, for the not-so-secret writing.....]

But I'm given to understand that it isn't as easy and naturally-occurring for some others --- but it would still be handy to be able to look back over a month or a season or a year and be able to take stock of how things are coming along, or not. Maybe it's one of those things that ought to be in the not-yet-written parts II and III of the Spiritual Fitness Program, in "Advanced Beginners" or "Intermediate Spiritual Athletes." (I didn't think of it before; after all, doesn't everyone think onto paper????)

Here's a few hints I think might help. Please, fill up the comments box with more bright ideas. Those of us to which this comes naturally don't always think of things other folk might see right away.

1) Write down something every day, no matter how little, at least for the first several months. even a single sentence --- "I had the stomach flu" or "The first tomato was ripe today, and it made a good TLO sandwich." will do. This has to do with establishing a habit pattern, after two or three months of doing something every day, that something, whatever it is, becomes like second nature, seems to have something to do with human hardwiring. When I was still working, we called it "the ruts in the resilient floor tiles" that for two months after every collection move we'd all start fetching in the wrong direction, where things used to be shelved, until there was a new rut to the new location.....

2) If you are involved in a spiritual fitness program of some sort, you may want to start logging your overt acts. I got this idea from the school of diabetes. Almost more important than diet, the testing, the insulin, and the exercise routine is the paperwork --- called the "logbook" and the "diabetes diary" --- where every blood test, every shot, and every coloric food eaten is written down or graphed. A typical diabetes diary page reads something like this:


rising blood sugar: 116
insulin (R) units: 0
breakfast: 2 sl. ww toast w/pb, 8 oz skim milk, 1 apple
lunch: pork roasted with carrots, celery, onions, 2 choices potatoes
pre-dinner blood sugar: 120
Insulin (R) units: 2
dinner: lowfat cottage cheese, celery sticks, 2 granola bars
Lantus insulin 10 units @ midnight

Notice that I didn't have to get coherent or creative (though I could have if I wanted or needed) but all the facts are there that I'm going to need to find out if I'm being successful over a course of weeks or months, long after I can remember just what I had for lunch on some particular day, or that was thne weekend I was throwing up, or the day I ate out....

I'm presuming that, for those folk who aren't natural-born diarists, something similar would be possible, maybe like this ---I'll create a character for this, similar to lots of ladies in my neighborhood. (working-class woman with husband, several school-aged children, 2 1/2 jobs between her and husband, etc.)


morning offering: yes
prayers for special intentions: husband, children, Sue's safe travel, Fr. Campbell's cancer, against violence in city
Scripture read: Genesis 23-24, Matthew 9:9-13 (Mass readings)
current book/tape/lectio: Catechism 976-987 (believe in forgiveness of sins)
merciful act: yes
examen: yes. Issues: stop fantasising about stringing up supervisor! patience with children. only cussed twice today, continue work on pottymouth. Add needs of supervisor to special intentions tomorrow. Maybe take kids for tabernacle time tomorrow _before_ festival. Beware overindulgence on holiday weekend.

There's room to expand and expound, if one has a mind to, but even if not, the facts are there for review, and can check out over time one's progress; and examen things that are grave matter or that keep on coming up can be taken for some of that confessional grace.

That's as far as I've taken this; please help me out in the comment box or by email, there's two links for email in the sidebar!


Anonymous said...

The only journal I've ever been able to keep is titled "Letters to my future spouse." I left it "spouse" instead of "wife" because at the time I began the journal, and even now to some extent, I was trying to be open to the Priestly or Religious life and in those cases one's spouse is the Church. Surprisingly, having someone, even though they were/are unknown, made the difference between keeping a journal of thoughts and prayers and not keeping a journal.

Also, I've found the best time for me to journal is when I'm sitting before the Blessed Sacrament. Everything I end up writing is not just addressed to my future spouse, but to Jesus.

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Howdy, a dear friend who knows I'm a writer gave me a ready-made prayer journal, that contains a line of scripture or other spiritual reflection on each page, plus an introduction that gives ideas for journaling. I must admit I rejected that format, and simply keep lists, like a dayplanner, but of things that I accomplish. Years ago I stopped giving up "things" for lent, and started adopting "good" traits, for example, calling my mother in law every month, or not going to bed with dishes in the sink. They seem like silly things, but actually, for me, involve a great deal of sacrifice. I keep track of my yearlong lenten sacrifice in the journal, and it gives me the strength to adopt the positive behaviors.

Jellybean (from over at RA)

Julie D. said...

I keep a notebook but use a different method. I have a different page for different "topics" with prayer needs grouped together. They are very simple (Those I struggle to forgive, Conversion, the Church, etc.). Then on each line I have someone's name with occasionally a note to remind me of their need. I can turn each page, glance at the names and be reminded of the different needs of each person. And sometimes, when prayers are definitively answered, I get to cross a name or need off the list. Obviously, this is more of an aide-memoire than anything but looking through at the headings serves to focus my thoughts also. Though, looking at the other comments, I realize I don't have a page for myself ... and that is a definite must!

Karen Marie said...

comment from Fair Angel of the RA Forum:

At my apartment I have a "Prayer Journal" that a woman from Rochelle, IL publishes. It's in a medium size 3 ring folder and divided in to sections that follow the ACTS anacronym:

There are lists of God's names and attributes in Adoration, Psalm 51 among other things in Confession, a general outline of local, national, and international things to pray for in Supplication and loads of space for paper to write your own prayers and God's responses to them. I'll try to remember to bring it with me the next time I come to my parent's house to get on-line.

My prayer journal works in two ways besides the above. I have a journal in which I write out what I think God is challenging me to do and work on, and I have a journal in which I pretty much just list all the prayer requests people ask me to pray for (this is the 'list' or 'book' to which I refer when I post in the Pray forum). My friend Brienne makes sure to leave room to write down when and how God answers each prayer. I don't necessarily write in either one every day, and in my journal I sometimes go a week or more without writing, even though I may be reading my Scriptures every day. I tend to write out the things I need to think about in more detail, or that really speak to a problem I'm having at that time. What's kind of amusing is looking back at my journals over the past 5 years or so and seeing how my journals started off about 3/4 about boys and 1/4 about God, and now there 3/4 about God and 1/4 about work and friends and family and boys... I guess that shows that I'm kind of growing up, huh? Anyway, prayer journals are a great tool for growth and enrichment, and I know that I've been blessed to have been keeping one these past years. Oh! The one that helped me get started was Rebbecca St. James's "40 Days With God". It's geared towards teen/young adult girls, but what helped me was it's format... of course since I only did it every other day or every three days it took me longer than 40 days to complete, but I still got a lot out of it.