Friday, February 12, 2010
Writing into the silence: Journaling prayer
Here's the question: if something is important enough to assign to our students, shouldn't we -- their professors -- do it as well?
The question has come up in two contexts of late, so it seems like something I ought to attend to.
The first context is the whole question of immersion: we require it of our students, because multiculturalism is a value that directs teaching and learning at our institutions. Doesn't it follow that professors should go too? And not as teachers, but as learners, experiencing what their students do -- along with them? My answer is a hearty "Yes!" I'm working with a subcommittee of my faculty to make it both possible and required of all faculty.
Doubtless related, the second context for the question is the class Lisa and I teach this semester on comparative spiritualities, Lutheran and Ignatian. Yes, it's one of the "deliverables" of our grant on pilgrimage, now taking on a life of its own. We also wanted the course to be a course not just ABOUT spiritual experience, but IN it.
So we asked students to keep a prayer journal, chronicling their life of prayer. We haven't given much direction to this -- Ignatius and Luther are far more directive! In short, we don't care how they pray, we just care that they pray.
That second context prompted the question we asked ourselves last week: "Gosh, shouldn't we be doing this as well?" And of course, the answer is another hearty "Yes!"
So I started mine. With pencil and glue stick, I started. I actually know a few things about how I need to journal. Journals, unlike books, get to be three-dimensional. They must have pockets and images, things that fold out and things that get tucked in. Because journals help me pay attention, anything that catches my attention gets imported.
But I've only kept journals for travel, for pilgrimage, for immersion. Never for prayer. I'll figure out what's different.
Here's what's the same: Journals function as a kind of retrospective map. They tell you where you've been, not where you're going. You can trace the trajectory of the past in any way you want, but ahead of you -- yet to come -- is only blank, beautiful pages.
It's a little scary, like medieval maps of the world, which depicted the "known" world in exquisite detail, then drifted off into a "terra incognita" populated by fearsome sea monsters. Another example: I was in East Berlin back before the Berlin Wall fell. I bought a map of the city, which showed the streets and tram lines in elaborate detail. But beyond the Wall there was -- nothing! No sign of West Berlin, no sign of the West at all.
That's both the invitation -- and fear! -- behind a journal. All the beautiful detail of what came before. All the blankness of what lies ahead. Depending on where your head is at the moment, keeping one can be either a challenge -- or a terror.
Here's all I know: those blank pages will soon be filled, with images as yet unseen, poems as yet undiscovered, and graces abundant.