I’ve been a journal writer ever since the first grade and throughout college and afterwards, I’ve been keeping a prayer journal. At this point in my life, I currently have three prayer journals: One is a binder of loose leaf paper that I use when I pray in the morning. The second is a composition notebook that I use when I pray the Examen. The third is a small spiral notebook that I use as a Mass journal.
Keeping a prayer journal is a great way to increase your prayer life. I often call it writing letters to God. Thomas Merton, St. Therese of Lisieux, Pope John XXIII, St. Faustina, St. Ignatius, Mother Teresa, and many other saints have kept journals. Mass journals are more of a recent thing, inspired by Matthew Kelly and promoted by the Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship.
Being a writer, keeping a journal is a great way for me to get all my thoughts out of my head. I love having social media, don’t get me wrong, but there are things I’d rather keep between me and God. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be good at writing, or even praying, there’s a great sense of relief of getting everything in your head out onto paper.
If you’re not sure where to start, I’ll give you some suggestions, starting with Mass Journaling.
The way I journal at Mass is that I write a verse that particularly stands out to me from the readings and I take notes during the homily, if it’s a good one. If you find yourself in the middle of a bad homily, take note of the readings you heard or read and meditate on them at home. Bishop-Elect Robert Barron always has great homilies on the Word on Fire site. Also ask the Holy Spirit to inspire your pastor when you journal about his homily.
Another way to keep a journal is to address it to your future spouse. No, not in the Megan Trainor “Dear Future Husband” kind of way. Katie Hartfiel and Crystalina Evert both kept a journal, addressing the entries to their future husbands. I actually did a few journals in this style during my last two years of college, but my post-college crisis prompted me to address the journals to a higher power instead.
You can also keep a gratitude journal, in which you write at least one thing that you’re grateful for. I highly recommend keeping a gratitude journal because it’s a great way to remember all the blessings that God put into your life, even if it’s hard to see them at first.
Here’s how I prayer journal right now. In the morning, I set aside time to do a type of journaling that I’ve done since high school: The Morning Pages, as created by Julia Cameron. Now Cameron isn’t a Catholic. She fell away from the Church. But her book, The Artist’s Way is still one of the books that I feel made the most impact on my life. I started writing the Pages as my way of coping with being rejected from Rice University and went through The Artist’s Way for 12 weeks. During those 12 weeks, I got an acceptance letter from The University of St. Thomas, which was the best thing that happened to me in my adolescence. Even though she’s not a Catholic anymore, I feel like God used her as a secondary cause for me to find the best way of journaling out my anxiety. These days, when I do the Morning Pages, I address the letters to Jesus, picturing Him as my best friend and confidant, ready to relieve me of my burdens. Through the Morning Pages, I offer up my worries and offer up the day to Him, asking for His guidance and help. If you feel like writing the Morning Pages as a form of prayer journaling, check out Julia Cameron’s video on them on her website.
At night, I pray the Examen using a composition journal. I have a soft spot for composition notebooks. They may be plain and even childish at times, but they’re also simple and perfectly spaced out. I tend to write big so notebooks with small lines are the worst for me! Anyway, I love writing out the Examen because part of the Examen involves going through the day, thinking about what you’re grateful for as well as recalling the things that you did wrong. Writing helps me sort all of it out. There are many ways to pray the Examen, but my favorite one so far is how Leah Libresco described it in her book Arriving at Amen.
The short version, for those who haven’t read the book yet, goes like this:
- Consider your blessings.
- Ask God for light.
- Review your faults that happened today.
- Ask God for forgiveness
- Anticipate how you’ll start over.
The Examen journal functions as my gratitude journal as well because it helps me be grateful for all things: the good, the bad, the things I learn, and the things I can do in the future.
Rachel and Kateri have a wonderful video about prayer journaling that I highly recommend you watch.
One thing that I do with all of my journals is that I write down the date. It doesn’t seem important, but it’s always nice, whenever I look at my journals, to remember what day I gained a certain insight or when something special happened to me. Re-reading my journals has also showed me how much I have changed. My journals are also my way of keeping myself accountable when it comes to things that I need to do.
The point is, give prayer and Mass journaling a chance. You don’t have to be a good writer. You just need to start writing.