“I’m spiritual, not religious.” This self-identification has come to haunt American churches, synagogues, and temples in the 21st century as most organized religions continue to witness the movement of their faithful from community worship to isolating solitary introspective activities. They see themselves or others as spiritual persons even when no clear spirituality is present. Spirituality generally speaking is a person’s belief in, and ability to relate to, a transcendent ‘other’ that is beyond their own thinking and sensing. Spiritual practices endeavor to bring the person to some expanded consciousness of this being or force in a manner that somehow impacts their own existence favorably. Modern societies face an existential crisis as they develop into collectives of people relying upon their own introspective abilities to find this ‘other’. In the process of attempting to define themselves, they lose grasp of their true identity.
For the Christian, our spirituality is the perspective taken toward our living and being based upon our awareness of, and response to, God’s providence in our lives. He is the ‘other’ that transcends our own perceiving and understanding. It is in Him that we find our true identity, that of the beloved child. Some formal spiritualities emerged over the millennia from the charism of their founders: Dominicans, Franciscans, and Benedictines are a few examples. Each perspective or ‘spirituality’ is a faithful response to the same truths revealed to us by our loving God.
Catholic spirituality encompasses universal practices given to us by the Church that serve to form us in this response to God. The purpose of these practices is other-centered: the deepening of the relationship between the Lover and His beloved. This distinguishes us from the secular notion of a ‘spiritual person’ in which ‘relating’ to an ‘other’ is initiated by and based in their own action. This commonly entails practices that are an introspective engagement of the mind (such as journaling) or suppression of the body, mind, and/or spirit (meditation). Based completely in human action, it is then completely limited to that person’s capacity to know, understand, and relate. In contrast, Christian practices endeavor to bring our whole humanity actively into God’s presence, disposing us to an encounter with Him. Because God is love, His love is infinite and ongoing. He never ceases to present to us with the opportunity to deepen our ability to receive, understand, and grow in love, limited only by the extent of our cooperation with His grace. His healing and transforming us is relational. The practices given to us by the saints and spiritual masters of our past serve to aid us in our cooperation so that we live in the grace of the present moment.
Catholic journaling is quite different from the non-Christian practices in its essence and purpose: its origin and object is God, and its purpose is our relationship with Him. Journaling is one form of prayer—of conversation with God. One author describes it as “an artful dialogue with God, not a chronological record of events. The journal becomes not only a partner in our dialogue with God but also a record of revelations, and it is a practice that invites further divine intervention in our life.” As with all prayer, it helps us to elevate our mind and heart to Him who already awaits us. Simple in its beginnings, the journal’s conversation develops within the growing relationship with our Lord.
(This is the first article of a three-part series. Next, we will look a bit closer at the practice of journaling itself.)
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