The Holy Spirit in My Pen
When I went to college, email was not available, and we shared one pay phone per floor in our dorm. The best way to keep in touch with friends and family was to write letters. I checked my mailbox several times a day for a letter from a friend or family member I missed. These letters were a lifeline for me when I was homesick. They helped me stay connected with the people I loved the most–to imagine what their life was like and to share what was happening in mine. Taking the time to write about what was happening in my life inspired me to reflect on what I felt about it and to wonder how the recipient felt too.
I still write notes to friends who are going through something intense (good or bad) because I don’t trust my in-person self to say the right thing at the moment. When I write these notes, it takes time and thought, which bring me, I think, closer to my friend in that present moment. Letter writing has made many of my relationships closer, both with myself and others.
My college courses required journaling freshman year but I continued through college and beyond, telling myself it was just a habit. But really, I was getting to know myself, working out problems and emotions. My journal is often a mirror which reflects my inner self. All that “interior stuff” is easy to miss in this fast-paced, chaotic world. Without my journal, I am sure I would not know myself as I do.
The rewards of self-knowledge are many, from any perspective. For example, my college requirement was part of my training as an actress and a singer. Your body (including your mind and heart) is your instrument. You must know and care for it well. Journaling was the one requirement that helped me get to know my inner self. My practice of journaling brought about many revelations of self, which I was then able to use in my work as an actress, fleshing out a character with more depth.
There are spiritual gifts that self-knowledge offers as well. For example, in re-reading my college journal, I noticed that these revelations also led me to God. God’s presence was manifested with spontaneous prayers flowing from my writing–mostly prayers of gratitude for the grace of noticing: “thanks God for pointing that out!”
In noticing something about myself, I was able to grow and mature. It offered a feeling of freedom from the nagging personality traits that interfered with my happiness.
Today, imagining the Holy Spirit inspiring me to grow and come closer to wholeness is quite awe-inspiring. I’m sure that I didn’t invite the Holy Spirit into my journal–not consciously anyway. Yet, the evidence of its presence is clear to me, both now and even then. The difference today is that I am both humbled and filled with joy at the prospect of being cared for so tenderly by God.
It is a rare occurrence for me to begin a journal entry feeling sure of what I am going to write. Indeed, the opposite is true. I often just respond to a desire to write in my journal, and it naturally unfolds. My journal is most definitely a boring read– until it’s not.
Sometimes I am halted by an observation or turn of phrase that hits me. It hits my heart, blows my mind, or both. Such a phrase is almost always connected to me personally, pointing me to an area of personal growth. But now, the growth is not about my relationship with myself and others, but about my relationship with God. This leads me to conclude (only half jokingly) that the Holy Spirit must be present in my pen.
I see that God has led me all these years into a journey toward oneness with God. For me, the journey began with knowing myself; then learning how to love myself and others well. While these two escapades will never be fully finished, my journal now has become a conversation in which I imagine myself talking to God and God responding in kind. My entries still begin with no specific goal, but they sometimes end with what feels to me like divine intervention.
As a spiritual directee and director, I have experienced the gift of sharing our journal entries out loud. I often read my journal aloud to my spiritual director. Aside from the obvious benefits of sharing my deepest thoughts and feelings with a non-judgmental and open friend, experiencing these spiritual revelations with my ears as well as my eyes gives me new perspectives. My director’s reaction to my sharing adds yet another dimension to these graced entries. God’s Grace expands and blooms in these conversations.
The Grace of God
In my early journaling days, there were obstacles in my way: inhibition, resistance, and time, to name a few. And if journaling weren’t a requirement in a program to which I was devoted, I doubt I ever would have stuck with it. But I’m glad I did because as a result, I have grown up in the light of God’s grace.
We speak of God’s Grace but do we really understand what it is? In Eph 2: 7-10, Paul affirms my experience that God’s Grace is a gift–one that, in my case, I didn’t earn or even ask for. Grace just spills into our lives.
In my recent ponderings on Grace, I have come to believe that God’s Grace is always present, but not always noticed. The poet Daniel Landinsky describes Grace as “all that happens” in his poem, “What is Grace?”, In it God expresses patience with all who are unable to notice “until the heart has wisdom.” Praise God for unending patience!
WHAT IS GRACE?
‘What is grace’ I asked God.
And He said,
‘All that happens.’
Then He added, when I looked perplexed,
‘Could not lovers
say that every moment in their Beloved’s arms
Existence is my arms,
though I well understand how one can turn
until the heart has
Simply put, Grace is God’s help for us to become wholly ourselves, alive and free. We are free to shed the parts of ourselves that get in the way of real peace. And we are free to join in God’s loving plan for ourselves and then for all.
I believe that God is present to us in our journals or any other endeavor that causes us to look at ourselves. If you remember an exploration in your life whose challenge revealed God’s presence to you, feel free to share it. Or perhaps write about it in your journal. Either way, it will offer you time to ponder the Grace gifted to you.
And pay attention to your pen–it may be filled with more than just ink!