Twenty Years of Journaling
I spent the summer of 1990 in Birmingham, Alabama. Like most summers in the deep South, it was hot, sweltering and sticky that summer. I had completed my first semester of seminary, and wanted to get some “field work” under my belt. So I applied to be an editorial assistant at Woman’s Missionary Union. I’d grown up on a steady diet of missions literature and practice which came out of Birmingham, so this was a bit like going to the holy city for me. Like most pilgrimages it had its moments of awe and its moments of disillusionment. It also held moments of learning and friendship, which have deepened across the years.
As a part of the ministry experience I had to write up three goals, which became my “learning contract.” What I can recall most clearly is the gist of two of the goals: 1) I would write a “sample” article for one of the magazines that I was assigned as a copy editor; 2) I would take up a new spiritual practice for the summer; the third main thing I recall was that I was supposed to talk about my learning and my goals with some peers and record the conversations. I had to send the conversations to my faculty supervisor back in Louisville for her review.
In my first semester of seminary I was assigned to read Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. It was an important book for me, and I tried to take the wisdom in it to heart. Growing up I had written in diaries, journals, school newspapers, classroom assignments, even a few essay contests. The only contest I ever won was in fourth grade – for the U.S. Bicentennial. But I knew the value of writing, then reading it later to see where I had changed and maybe even grown. I had learned that from youth ministry days. So all of this led me to the spiritual practice of journaling. I also committed to reviewing my journal once (or was it twice?) that summer and writing some reflections about what I noticed.
When I told my WMU editor about my first goal, she said something like, “You will not write a sample article. You will write a real article for one of the magazines.” So began a series of writing projects that continued without interruption for the next decade. I literally was not without a looming deadline for all of that time, until I began my doctoral program. About a year into the program I took a break from curriculum and ecclesial writing to focus on the new skill and craft of academic research and writing. It wasn’t much of a break, however, as I’ve continued to write for both church and academy.
I also met people that hot, sticky summer who’ve become part of a network of friends which led to other friends, and some of those connections have endured to this time in my life. So in that summer of field education for ministry were the seeds of writing and networking and friendship, which keep bearing fruit. I’ve tried to accomplish a host of tasks with the pieces I have written. Often they have been flat-footed or lacked adequate creative imagination. Yet I think one thread which runs continuously through all of it has been a hope that something I write might invite someone else into an encounter with the sacred in life. I’ve been more and less vulnerable in my attempts to tell my own story and sometimes the stories of others. I’ve been more and less articulate about what I hope to accomplish. That’s why, I suppose, journaling and writing for publication are for me mostly a practice. I’ll just keep trying and see where it leads.