I’m going to be leading my first eight day Ignatian retreat at the end of July, and I’ve been discerning how best to provide meaningful resources for those I’ll be working with. I’m grateful that I’m not starting from scratch. Beginning in 2008, I have made a yearly (well, mostly yearly) eight day retreats, ten in all over that time.
As I began discerning the Ignatian practices/Scripture passages I would share with others, the first place I turned to was the journals from my own retreats, and I started with the black spiral bound 1 subject notebook I probably picked up at Walmart for $1, maybe less. This notebook, now precious to me, documents the rich and life-giving experience I had in the summer of 2008. As I sat this past Sunday morning on my patio, I began moving through the pages of my thoughts, longings and aspirations jotted down thirteen years ago.
I was new to Ignatian Spirituality in those days. The very beginning of my Ignatian adventure took place at a Chicago restaurant called The Mystic Celt, sadly now out of business. I was in Chicago to attend a week-long meeting, and that first night, there were about twenty for dinner at a very long table. As providence would have it, I ended up at the end of the table, and opposite me was the Jesuit publisher George Lane.
After the waitress took our order, Fr. George asked me where I was from, and “what do you know about Ignatian Spirituality?” Sheepishly, I told him, “almost nothing.” That set the stage for a very nice conversation about Ignatius of Loyola and the spirituality which developed from his conversion nearly 500 years ago. Getting up from the table, we said our goodbyes and I thought that was the end of it. Little did I know it was really the beginning of something which continues to shape my life to this day.
When I came to our conference room the next morning, I noticed a little pile of books, tied with a red ribbon, sitting on the table behind the sign with my name written on it. I was unfamiliar with the titles, but they were all short introductions on Ignatian Spirituality. I put the bundle in my backpack and got myself ready for a long day of meetings.
During the morning break, Fr. Lane stopped by and I thanked him for the books, with a promise that I would begin reading one that night when I got back to the hotel. He said he had been thinking about our conversation, and in addition to reading the books he gave me, he encouraged me to find a retreat center when I got home and try to make an Ignatian Retreat.
Well, that’s exactly what happened, and I signed up for an eight day retreat that summer. I could go on and on, but since this post is about journaling, I better get back to task.
Before the retreat started, I opened up my blank notebook and wrote down a series of prayer intentions. For people I work with, for my family and friends, and for all the ministries I was engaged in at that time. After I got settled into my room, I went to the chapel and prayed over those intentions. It was a wonderful way to begin my retreat, and that time of prayer set the stage for a week long conversation with the Lord.
My spiritual director/companion for the week was Steven Wade, a retired Episcopal priest, well versed in Ignatian Spirituality. At our first meeting, Steve asked “Who is God for you right now?” and “Who is this God you’ve come to be with?” Wow, such profound questions, and I quickly realized this was going to be a rich, deep experience. For a Scripture passage to pray with on this first day, Steve gave me Psalm 139 to reflect and meditate on. I was familiar with this Psalm, and I had always loved the last lines, “Probe me, God, know my heart; try me, know my concerns. See if my way is crooked, and lead me on the ancient paths.” I wrote in my journal after my meditation, “The last lines are the ones that I think speak to me the most. Maybe that’s what this retreat is all about for me. With Steve and God’s help, I need to make my crooked paths straight. Take out some of the detours, kinks in the road, the potholes.”
I would love to tell you that I did just that during those eight wonderful days, and figured everything out and left the retreat center with a perfect plan to be implemented. Well, you know how it goes. I’m still trying to work on straightening out those crooked paths and avoiding detours.
I now have ten retreat journals to pour over, and I’m so grateful to have them. As I went through the first journal, I realized how far I’ve come. Those journals give me a glimpse into my ongoing pilgrimage to God, and they are such a source of consolation for me.
Those retreat journals led me to start journaling regularly throughout the year. I now have an entire shelf of them, starting a new journal each year. I no longer use the cheap Walmart notebooks, since they are not intended to hold up over the years. Now I use Moleskine notebooks to document my thoughts, prayers and discernment and general conversations with God and others.
So, this is a rather long post about journaling. Please think about keeping a journal to document your daily pilgrimage. In these crazy days in which we live, so distracted by so many things, journaling keeps us, I think, focused on the things that matter and keeps us on track.
I hope you’ll give it a try!