Writing to connect

by Andrea Noel
Journaling is about recording looming questions and instinctual
responses about life. Spiritual journaling is a more thoughtful record of insights, responses, experiences, and feelings about the spiritual life. Journaling, as a regular spiritual practice, can develop deeper awareness; create childlike wonder; permit radical vulnerability; invite unapologetic honesty. The speed and demands of society encourages us to ignore or forget our feelings moment-to-moment. Intentionally setting aside time to pause, recall, feel and write experiences down, allow emotions to surface and the body to release.
When our emotions begin to surface we are able to feel sadness, joy, peace, fear, anxiety, love, pride, anger, or compassion. Our bodies subsequently release stress, toxins, endorphins, adrenalin, energy, pain or pressure. In this view, journaling is a method of getting in touch with self, God and life. Additionally, the pages of a journal are an apt battlefield for the constant struggles experienced between faith and intellect; belief and reason; supernatural occurrences and logic; God and science. I attest that journaling will not solve the problems posed from these struggles, instead helps to create space for noticing our perceptions, projections and preferences regarding these struggles. This spacious awareness, stimulated from practicing regular journaling, invites us to willfully explore the world, letting everything in the world touch our hearts, minds, and spirits. When we allow ourselves to be touched, we can again connect to self, God and life.
Here are just a few tips on keeping a spiritual journal[1].
  1. Begin with silence. Give yourself a few quiet moments before writing, be still, and listen to the sounds around you. You can say a prayer before you begin or simply read scripture.
  2. Keep track of your entries with dates. This can be helpful if you revisit your journals in the future.
  3. Write. Write everything! Note your feelings, insights, questions, images, or dreams. Be open and allow yourself to be creative. Spiritual journaling can be expressed in a variety of ways, for example, photography, drawing, collaging, or playwriting.
  4. Try not to edit. There are no mistakes during spiritual journaling. Say “Goodbye” to your inner critic.
  5. Some journaling techniques that could help include:
    1. Recalling your entire spiritual journey, identify where you were 5 or 10 years ago and notice where you are now.
    2. You could consider your spiritual life through images or metaphors.
    3. Read books to stimulate spiritual awareness or openness and note what ideas you agree or disagree with.
    4. Similarly, you can consider the previous method with sermons, lectures or conversations had with others.
    5. Scripture is a common resource and useful way to begin spiritual journaling.
    6. Lastly, listen for God’s voice and what God wants to say to you.
    7. Be gentle. There are no right or wrong ways to practice spiritual journaling. Be tender as you explore what works best for you.

[1] Haywood, A. (2003). How to keep a spiritual journal.
Retrieved from: http://home.earthlink.net/~haywoodm/SpiritualJournal.html

Experiencing God’s Grace One Client at a Time

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:40

It might have been my first year in the Pastoral Counseling program at Loyola University Maryland, when a professor asked what type of client we would not want to treat. I thought for a moment, and then proceeded to conjure up the most depraved type I could imagine. Several of us raised our hands to share our opinions. I do not recall any answers being validated, and as the class progressed, it occurred to me that it was a trick question. As counselors we are called to be healers, and it is not our role to determine who might be worthy of counseling. What a valuable lesson I learned that day.

Many other lessons were learned since, some tangible, and some not. Among them was the manifestation of God’s grace in the counseling environment. As a pastoral counselor, I have the added benefit of incorporating spirituality in my work. This is not an alien concept, especially since many clients have a spiritual foundation, even if they are not actively involved in a faith community. In my experience, incorporating spirituality in my work enhances the healing process. It also allows me to experience God’s grace through my clients.

Even as I offer the thought of experiencing God’s grace, I realize the intangible nature of this statement. Grace is a gift that is freely given by God. We cannot earn it, and we cannot claim to deserve it. We also cannot touch it or present it concretely. It manifests as awareness, and I have found it to be present in the therapeutic environment. Each client has her own special manifestation of grace. It might be the hope she feels at the end of a particularly intense session, or it can be a feeling of peace that accompanies sacred silence during counseling. Each manifestation is unique.

I have wondered who benefits from God’s grace during therapy, and I realize that both client and counselor do. God provides what is needed when we acknowledge Him in the counseling environment. He supplies the counselor tools to facilitate healing, and offers the client the ability to receive and integrate the treatment. Loyola’s Pastoral Counseling program encourages and expects its graduates to invite God into the therapy room. In so doing, we should have no reservations about treating all clients with respect and compassion, regardless of who they are, and what their circumstance is.