by Julie Lunn.
A question I am wrestling with at present is how we articulate our faith; specifically how we express our spiritual lives in blogs or journals; essentially how we address God in private prayer and through recording how God is at work in our lives.
This last semester I taught a unit on Spiritual Formation, and embedded within the assessment was the requirement that students submit part of a spiritual learning journal, which they were required to keep for the duration of the unit. A significant number of the submissions were remarkable in their expressions of faith, experiences of prayer, and growth in their relationship with God. For the majority of the students, keeping a spiritual journal was not something they were used to doing; it was a new experience. However, given direction to pray, using a variety of prayer exercises from the Christian tradition, and then to reflect on that prayer and record their experience, they found the results were rich, fruitful and brought growth in their relationship with God.
One of the prayer exercises I asked the students to use was to pray with the self-examination questions John and Charles Wesley used for those who belonged to the Holy Club, which they set up in 1729. These questions were a means of accountability to God and one another, and are equally relevant today:
- Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
- Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
- Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told to me in confidence?
- Can I be trusted?
- Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?
- Am I self-conscious, self-pitying or self-justifying?
- Did the Bible live in me today?
- Do I give it time to speak to me every day?
- Am I enjoying prayer?
- When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?
- Do I pray about the money I spend?
- Do I go to bed on time and get up on time?
- Do I disobey God in anything?
- Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
- Am I defeated in any part of my life?
- Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
- How do I spend my spare time?
- Am I proud?
- Do I thank God that I am not like other people?
- Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard?
- Do I grumble or complain constantly?
- Is Christ real to me?
In her book The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self, Julia Cameron, addressing people who feel as though their creativity is ‘blocked’ or hasn’t been allowed to flourish, requires her readers to write three pages of longhand text, every morning – an exercise she calls ‘the morning pages’. These pages, she says, ‘are the primary tool of creative recovery’, (p11). The writing, which doesn’t have to be clever, ordered or thought through, allows creativity to emerge and flow, and puts us in touch with wisdom within; she sees them as a form of meditation.
Within the context of faith, spiritual writing can and does have much the same effect. It allows a free-flow expression of our faith; it aids reflection, sharpens awareness, and deepens our relationship with God and our knowledge of ourselves. It enables us to recognise the theological wrestling we do, the ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ of our spiritual journey; it provides a space to express not only our thoughts, but also our feelings and emotions – the cries of our hearts to God – much in the vein of the Psalms. But many of us don’t do it. I wonder whether we can institute, revive, encourage this practice among us, to stir and deepen growth in faith, and knowledge of ourselves, of others and God?
I am currently conducting a research study about how women in the Wesleyan tradition articulate faith. I’m looking at some letters of women written to Charles Wesley, and how those women in the eighteenth century articulated their faith in the period of the Evangelical revival. I will also be comparing how women articulate their faith today – what sort of language do we use in our conversation with God and our expression of our relationship with God? For this project I am seeking women who would be willing to provide extracts from their spiritual journals, blogs, or provide specifically written pieces, giving an account of a spiritual experience or a conversion narrative. If you are a woman and would like to participate, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But perhaps for us all, practicing the discipline of spiritual writing, regularly, faithfully, even when we don’t feel like it, might take us deeper into the wisdom of God and the wisdom within.