SEEING THE DIVINE IN EVERYDAY LIFE: THE POWER OF THE JOURNAL
Where and how does the Divine make themselves known in our everyday lives? I found the question was overwhelming to begin with, so I decided to do some analysis by recording my thoughts in a journal. (I’ve never been good on journals… for me they have been like the diary we buy at the beginning of January and stop using by the second week!).
I decided not to overthink what to write in the journal. The only proviso was that I would write on ‘spiritual matters’. So I wrote a note or copied a quote from a book or article I was reading at whatever time of day the urge came to me.
After two weeks I did a quick analysis to see where my lessons were being learned. At this early stage I found three main lessons, the first being obvious:
1. There are spiritual lessons in the Sunday church service sermon
In Mullumbimby, Australia, where I live, we’re blessed to have two pastors who have great gifts in preaching. This last week Pastor Phil Dokmanovic preached from John, chapter 10, verse 9 ‘I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.’ As he explained the meaning of the text and its application to our lives today, I understood that the Divine was present 24/7, with us and guarding us, whether we are conscious of this or not. And when we enter those dark periods in life he holds us up. …. just as it says in the poem, ‘Footsteps in the Sand’:
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”
2. Spiritual writing is a form of storytelling that can provide the writer and any reader with epiphany after epiphany
Philip Zaleski, editor of the Best Spiritual Writing Series, published by Harper in San Francisco, tell us that spiritual writing is:
‘poetry or prose that deals with the bedrock of human existence. Why we are here, where we are going, and how we can comport ourselves with dignity along the way’.
The rewards need to be two-fold, for both writer and reader. In her book, ‘Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir’, Elizabeth J. Andrews explains this thus:
‘the writer works to tell his or her story in such a way that the experience of the sacred is made available to the reader’.
At times my writing felt like spiritual memoir. As Elizabeth J. Andrews relates:
‘Spiritual memoir …is a genre in which one’s life is written with particular attention paid to its mysteries. It uses the material of the past and present to ask, “What is the source of my existence?” “What makes me tick?” “What gives me breath, hope or inspiration?” Invariably spiritual memoir places one’s life in a relationship to something greater, whether that something be God or oneness or the earth or death. Unlike literary memoir, the purpose of writing spiritual memoir is only secondarily to create a well-crafted work. Spiritual memoirists write because writing brings them nearer to the ineffable essence of life”.
Armed with this information, I started to write in my journal: reflections, stories of both my own and other’s spiritual experiences. Some I asked for, and some were provided for me. I asked one Christian friend, whom I knew to be a prayer warrior of great wisdom, to give me an instance where she had had a spiritual experience. She told me about a time, many years ago, when aged 18, she had gone to a Christian camp in the Blue Mountains of Sydney and met a young man that she thought might be ‘the one’. Once she had returned home she prayed and asked if he was the one she was destined to marry. She felt the Lord respond in a kindly rebuke with the message that ‘When the one comes along that you are to be with for the rest of your life you will allowed to know’. An example provided for me was after I had given the message in a church service. Someone asked if they could be a witness to a spiritual experience they had had. So he shared this with the whole church congregation.
To date, the stories of others’ spiritual experiences have been given to me orally, rather than in writing. There is no (spiritual) issue in this. It is said that Jesus himself did not write anything. As Philip Zaleski writes in the Foreword (px) of ‘The Best Spiritual Writing of 2013’:
Jesus’ literary skills were considerable, as we see in his parables and sayings. He spoke Aramaic, Hebrew, probably some Greek, perhaps some Latin, and was skilled at reading scripture. He lived in a community that esteemed the written word and rubbed shoulders with other cultures (notable Egyptian and Greco-Latin) that excelled in visual and literary arts’.
Although I will relate some of my spiritual experience stories orally to friends, my main focus will be to write them down in my journal as they occur.
The third lesson I have learned from analysing the last two week’s entries in the journal are informed by reading another section of Elizabeth J. Andrews’ book..
3. The sacred story is a thing of itself
Elizabeth J. Andrews suggests in a beautifully poetic way that we must see each story as a thing of itself:
‘When we write down a spiritual journey for its own sake, we become responsible to the story itself — to the sacred story — the longing I feel today, poised at the keyboard, is the press of the sacred yearning to emerge. When we write, we help bring holiness to birth. Writing is a way to participate in the world and in its creation……
The spiritual writer uncovers, probes and honors what is sacred in his or her life story: the writing process itself is a means to spiritual growth; and the end product makes the experience of the sacred available to the reader. The heart of spiritual memoir is intensely private. It is an intimate conversation between the writing and a great mystery’.
I found one powerful example of a sacred story that still resonates with me two weeks after I wrote about it in my journal:
The singing masseuse
I have only had one massage in my life until, as a Christmas present this year, I received a voucher for a massage with a local masseuse. She does these in her home which is barely three rooms: a kitchen/living room, a bedroom and a bathroom. Her massage table replaces the kitchen table for the time of the massage. As I entered the kitchen/living space I could hear ‘New Age’ meditational music of the Tibetan kind.
She washed my feet in a bowl of warm water containing frangipani flowers, dried them in a warm, red towel and asked me to undress, lie on the massage table with a cover over me. She asked if I would like her to take account of any area and for some unknown reason I said ‘the heart’. She asked if I would be comfortable if she sang to me whilst focusing on the heart and I agreed.
For the next hour and a half she massaged me with fragrant, warm oil to the sound of the Tibetan’s songs, and I drifted in and our of sleepy consciousness. Then she placed her fingers on my breastbone near my heart and began her song of made up words.
The spiritual ‘kick’ was phenomenal. Her beautiful voice resonated through my body and it felt as though it also touched my soul. In Christian terms, this was a physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit. I’m still trying to make sense of this sacred feeling. The masseuse was not a practising Christian as far as I knew. Although there was one small cross visible in the room, there were also many crystals, images of the Buddha, and she had offered to do a tarot reading for me, so I took this to be proof that she wasn’t a practising Christian. But the experience was a sacred one for this Christian.
I am looking forward to ‘next steps’ in my journal writing about this sacred experience.