I wrote a new article “The Spiritual Practice of Writing” for Spirituality and Health Magazine (Nov/Dec 2021) Issue.
Ideas for how to get started journaling and why it’s such a powerful tool.
In the back of my closet is a stack of colorful journals in various shapes and sizes hidden away behind blankets and clothes. When I was young, I was encouraged by my parents to write down my thoughts. So, I’ve kept a journal for most of my life.
When I was raising my own three children, I encouraged them to keep a journal to record their feelings, their experiences, their ideas. I wanted them to be able to have a tangible piece of themselves from the past, a body of text to transmute them back to their inner child, a place where their purest memories could be relived again. I would often‚ to their irritation, make my kids pack their daily journals for our family trips and require them to complete their assignment, which was to write a blog piece for my website. I told them that they owed me this much, as there was no such thing as a free lunch.
Writing has become a big part of my life and my academic career. While I continue to keep a journal, I don’t document my thoughts in daily detail as I did when I was younger. For the most part, my journal now is written on my laptop and filed away.
Most of my journal entries now are reflections on my own personal experiences. I reflect and try to see God’s presence in my life.
By writing, I am able to extract calm from the more chaotic moments in my life. Writing down the thoughts that we don’t dare to articulate to another person can offer us healing and reconciliation within our souls.
Some of our personal experiences of loss and pain can push us inward, and in some cases, towards total isolation. We do not want to be bothered with confronting the things that trouble us or cause us pain. Writing can bring a sense of healing and wholeness; writing can bring a sense of peace or closure to thoughts that would have otherwise been left to dwell in the clandestine corners of our mind.
Writing can be a spiritual practice in these four ways:
Writing makes us reflect on our life. We can often go on trudging towards an end goal, caught up in the doing, the consuming, the progress moving forward. This can lead to burnout and spiritual exhaustion. Writing helps us to take a moment to reflect on our daily actions and pushes us to see if we are on a positive, life-enhancing spiritual path … or taking detours.
Writing requires us to literally pause from our other daily tasks so that we can write. Taking pause centers our soul, recalibrating our actions through written reflection. Pause is a form of nourishment, breaking the rhythm of our busy days, thus allowing ourselves to become more attuned to our intentions in the way we act. Writing as a practice helps us to reinvent how we spend and view our time, renewing the spirit and feeding mind and body.
In moments of writing, we relive events. Some events can be painful and others may be joyous. Whatever we are reliving, it requires us to spiritually breathe. Take in the moments and take deep breaths. When we breathe deeply, we become aware of the divine presence in our body.
In Korea, we call deep breaths hansoom. It is a word that connotes letting breath out and finding release. When I was growing up and having difficulties in school or with classmates, my mother would often tell me han-soom shuh, which literally means to take a break and breathe deeply. To spiritually breathe through reflective writing is to calm our bodies and our souls; it can be a life-changing experience.
We are human beings with a body and soul. Sometimes in the endless responsibilities and chaos of our lives, we feed our bodies but fail to feel our souls. We give our souls the vital nutrients it thirsts for when we write.
When I was experiencing the most pain in my life, I was writing. I was writing random thoughts, incoherent sentences, angry ideas, and lamentations to God. Writing in my own rage because of the injustices that decorated my life and the lives around me brought some sense of order and clarity from the disarray.
Since writing is a spiritual exercise, I encourage you to simply begin without pressure. This can mean taking five minutes as you rise in the morning or before you go to bed to reflect on what you are grateful for, how your relationship with God is, or where your mind is at. I hope that it will bring some sort of healing into your life.
JOURNALING DO’S AND DON’TS
- Write short reflections. If you get overwhelmed by the blank page or the idea of drafting a long-winded reflection, limit yourself to just a few minutes when you get a moment or even to just a few sentences that translate your feelings onto paper.
- Write for yourself. Writing can become burdensome when writing for others or even for that critical voice in our head. Release that pressure. Write as an act of self-care and spiritual growth.
- Write about your personal life. Personal stories create our own narrative. The ability to reflect on them will help you make the necessary connections between your experience and your knowledge of God.
- Write for pleasure. Writing should bring joy and renewed energy, so please write with joy. Instead of thinking, “I have to write now,” think, “I get to write now.” Find gratitude in this moment of silence, pause, and reflection.
- Write for revenge. Some people write and hope that the enemy will stumble onto their piece so that they can get revenge. Writing is a tool of spiritual growth that should not be used for ill will or for lingering malevolence towards others who have done you wrong.
- Write for form, technique, or clarity. Don’t get worried about grammar and spelling errors or sentence structure. You should simply write and not get too tied up with writing perfect thoughts or sentences.
- Write out of pressure. Don’t worry about setting up a time to write if that doesn’t work for you. Just write whenever you feel like writing, if that’s between little moments in the day, when a thought comes up while cooking dinner, or even in the middle of the night—but do not force yourself to write.
- Write for length. Don’t get stuck on word count and making sure you write enough or not too much. Writing should just come from within naturally, in whatever length or form.
About the Author
Grace Ji-Sun Kim received her PhD from the University of Toronto and is Professor of Theology at Earlham School of Religion. She is the author or editor of 20 books, most recently, Invisible, Hope in Disarray; Keeping Hope…