In Part 1 of our series on private retreats we laid out a structure for making a private retreat, and part of that process included journaling after prayer sessions.
If there is one way to catch your emotions during the course of a retreat in a way that allows you to recognize the the ebbs and flows of your prayer life it is journaling.
There are multiple benefits to journaling after prayer. Writing in a journal helps to capture thoughts and emotions so that they can be revisited later. If you are meeting with a spiritual director during your retreat the journal will help you remember the prayer session in detail. The more you can share with the spiritual director the more effective he or she will be at guiding you through the retreat.
If you are not meeting with a spiritual director the journal may be even more important. Before beginning each prayer session it will help to revisit the journal entry from the previous session, and maybe even from several previous sessions. Remembering exactly what you were praying about and how you were moved will help to focus your prayers in the forthcoming period. This focus will help you to go deeper in your prayer.
Finally, journaling will help develop a road map for where you want to go after the retreat is finished. It will assist in setting concrete goals for spiritual growth and clarify the steps required to get there.
HOW TO JOURNAL
Each person will have a unique style of journaling. A journal entry might involve long paragraphs examining an event or a list of jotted bullet points. An ordinary notebook can be used, or you can buy an official journal or diary. It is most important to simply find something that is comfortable to write in.
While journaling, keep a few tips in mind:
• Journal entries are not meant for an audience, so do not write for one. Write for yourself in a style that is comfortable.
• Do not worry about flow. There is a temptation to write out the experience of an event linearly, with graceful transitions from one topic to another, but this is not necessary in a journal.
• Journaling helps you to process the event of the prayer session. Writing about the experience will shape the memory of it in your mind and clarify your thoughts and emotions about it. It will help your mind to examine and understand what has happened and what was learned.
• Record any questions that you encounter. Recording questions that come up during your prayer is vital. The journal is not just a log of what has happened, but a tool to leverage that will increase your spiritual growth.
Throughout the retreat it will be helpful to revisit journal entries from previous prayer sessions and return to questions or thoughts that had come up earlier. You may be in a better place to deal with them after some time has passed. Look back through your journal regularly, even after the retreat has finished, and you will be able to see patterns in your prayer and learn a little more about yourself.
Have you ever kept a prayer journal? How did it help your prayer? Let us know in the comments below!