An Encouraging Word — How to keep a journal

Father J. Ronald Knott
Father J. Ronald Knott

Write it on a tablet. Inscribe it in a record. Isaiah 30:8

Every August I teach the seminary deacon class during the school’s intensive spirituality week about the practical things they will face in their transition out of seminary into ministry. I give each deacon a leather bound journal with their name stamped in gold.

I teach them to keep a journal because I have found it so helpful myself. I have over 20 volumes that cover most of my priesthood years. There are blank spots, but none of them seem to go on more than a month or two. It is fascinating to review what I was thinking 30 years ago versus what I was thinking five or even last year.

What kind of things could go into a spiritual journal?

1. Observations on things that you sense going on around you as you go through times of change and growth.
2. Places you have been and what you drew from them (e.g. retreats, family gatherings, special celebrations).
3. Insights you have about yourself and your vocation.
4. Feedback you have been given by others through conversation or written communication.
5. Prayers you have read, written, said or heard.
6. Special insights about your vocation that you have come across and want to remember (either intact or where to retrieve them).
7. Ways you have surprised yourself.
8. Things you have discovered about yourself as you look back through your journal.
9. Important dates and events that impacted your life.
10. Things that come to you while driving, sleeping or meditating.
11. Insights gained during reflections on special milestones (e.g. your birthday, your anniversary or change of jobs or places of residence).
12. Clever and insightful ideas and quotes that can be used for presentations or further reflection.

Are there any helpful guidelines?

1. The most important thing is to be honest with yourself and God during writing. Pious sentiments that you feel you should have are not helpful.
2. The date and the time should be clearly marked with each entry. Since you are tracking your progress, you will not be confused later about when you wrote something or when something actually happened.
3. Choose a sturdy book, not a flimsy notebook, since it will hopefully get a lot of use. It should look “worthy” of what it contains. It should be left in plain sight so that it can beckon you to come and write.
4. Unfortunately, journals can be lost, stolen or accidentally read by others, no matter how careful you are. You may choose some code words that only you know for the most private, sensitive entries.
A spiritual journal is not a diary. Its function is to make the journal keeper more intentional about his spiritual growth by allowing him to look back to see how he has grown spiritually, or perhaps regressed, over a significant period of time.

Writing can be a great way to keep up with yourself!

Father J. Ronald Knott

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