(Image from www.barrattschapel.org)
When I have a day (or even an afternoon) to spend with the Lord at a retreat, I always bring along my prayer journal. This journal is very different from my usual journal in which I write about the happenings of the past week. It also differs (obviously) from my Quotation Journal in which I jot down quotations that appeal to me. And it's also not at all like my Prayer Request Journal in which I keep a list of people to pray for each week.
No, my Prayer Journal is quite different. As I said, I really only write in my Prayer Journal when I can devote at least a couple hours to the endeavor. Usually I sit in my comfortable old beach chair that's low to the ground and just the right heighth for me to use one of my lap writing desks, either the lovely antique white one given to me by my dear poet friend Kathryn or the one I bought at Bombay two decades ago for writing in bed during graduate school. I write with my dip pen and bottle of sepia ink, the ink bottle in the back corner of the desk's top so that I cannot spill it -- it's supported on two sides and I tilt the desk just so.
So what do I write in my Prayer Journal during these retreats? I write/pray directly to Christ. I find that as I pray in writing, some issues come to mind that I need very much to pray about but that have been pushed so far into the back corner of my conscious mind that I've nearly forgotten about but definitely need to be discussed with God. Issues that I have with certain people pop up, and I take the opportunity to discuss with God my (poor) reactions to their actions and my need to forgive them. The hours fly by when I am "praying" in this manner, praying in writing, writing down my questions and observations and the answers and advice that come down to me from my Lord as our conversation progresses.
The first time I practiced this type of written prayer was during my first contemplative retreat. My dear friend Johanna sent me to a day retreat sponsored by her church, College Avenue Baptist Church, at the Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside. One of the original California missions and still an active parish, Mission San Luis Rey possesses retreat grounds behind the mission, mission museum, and front grounds. After our opening talk, I settled on a bench where I could see the rose garden, the rolling green hills, and the original mission bells, pulled out the new journal I had purchased for the occasion, and began to write/pray about a very troubling situation our church was going through during this time.
I had seated myself around 9:30 that morning, and the lunch bell was the only thing that roused me from the pages I had written/prayed three hours later. I couldn't believe that three hours had passed! I had written close to twenty pages, venting my frustration and grief and also praying for the grace and forgiveness to move forward. As I stood up to gather my things and walk to the small refectory, I felt twenty pounds lighter in mind and heart. Writing down exactly how I felt, what made me angry about the situation (and believe me, it was an ugly, ugly set of circumstances of which I had somehow landed squarely in the middle), and what God told me to think, say, and do about the situation was such a relief.
I hold nothing back in this Prayer Journal. I never concern myself about whether my feelings I write in this journal are right or wrong; I just express them how I feel them and then lay them at the feet of the cross, an offering to Him that I try to take my hands off and let Him handle a particular situation. And it is a relief -- such a freeing, light feeling once I have gained God's perspective on a troubling situation that I didn't realize what weighing on my heart, mind, soul.
So I encourage you, dear reader, to get alone for a few hours with your favorite pen or pencil and a fresh journal and start writing to God. It's definitely a form of prayer, and because it is written, it's so helpful to reread at a later date and see how God was working or was leading me to work in particular circumstance. If it is intensely personal, something I know I never want to fall into other hands besides my own, then I shred or burn the pages once I am finished with them. Even though I no longer have those pages at my fingertips, I still remember what I wrote so much more clearly than if I had merely prayed aloud.
I'm due another day of retreat, and I have an appointment with my Prayer Journal. It's much needed as the stress I live under right now is crushing -- or would be, if Christ wasn't with me to shoulder the majority of the burden.