When we take the time to tend the garden of the soul, the Lord will invariably speak through us

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on April 22, 2018

 

      A spiritual journal is an effective way to pour out the significant details of our lives, the lasting fruit of our prayer and the spiritual insights of our experience in a disciplined effort. I have started and stopped a spiritual journal over the years, always intending to remain committed to writing my reflections, but sooner or later drifting away from it. I suppose my weekly columns are a spiritual journal in a sense; I certainly feel privileged to share my evolving thoughts, faith convictions and struggles of Christian discipleship with all of you.

      I recently discovered a journal that I had been keeping in the early 2000s, begun while I was on retreat at New Melleray Abbey, a Trappist monastery in Iowa where I have been discovering God, silence, prayer and peace for 36 years. Here is the opening passage, written on Dec. 15, 2002 at 4 a.m. on a bitterly cold morning in a solitary and silent chapel.

      “I begin this journal on my knees at New Melleray Abbey in the basement chapel, lined with ancient stone, filled with the unspeakable presence of God. Why am I beginning this journal and why now? I feel as if I am standing on the precipice of a great mystery, a discovery, some sort of abyss that fills me with dread and hope at the same time. These empty pages stand as the blank leaves of my future days which you, O Lord, already know. May I only fill them with your Word – Jesus - whom you consistently, yet gently, continue to imprint upon my heart and my life.

      O Jesus, I have held you thousands of times in my hands at Mass, yet have let you drop from my heart and my thoughts. In this place of silence and prayer, empty me out, O Lord, of my selfishness, my obsessions, my fears and my anxieties. Help me to speak your living Word to your people. Forgive my pride - this sense of needing to justify, explain, and make myself up apart from your silence and humility.  Bless this journal. May it be a drama of grace in the life of a sinner.”

      When we ponder the mystery of life, the gifts we have received, the sufferings and setbacks endured, the growth of faith, love and peace in our souls, the experiences, struggles, graces and crosses that fill our days and years, can we not see them all as a drama of grace? Every human person is a living narrative of how God is working to love, bless, convert and forgive this particular soul and powerfully use us to bring others to the grace and mercy of the Sacred Heart of Christ. 

      If we are faithful to the labyrinthine ins and outs of our spiritual path, God gently and mysteriously will lead us home.

      Here is what I wrote the following day, Dec. 16, after praying in the pitch-dark monastery chapel upstairs where the only light at 3 a.m. is the sanctuary lamp suspended in the air, the silent witness to the enduring presence of the Eucharistic Christ.

      “In the night of the sleeping world, one flickering jab of light sighs in the darkness, shouting out the nearness of God, the incarnate presence of the Son. While most people are asleep and others are just going to bed, the monks keep vigil with the sleepless Christ. O God, you come to me in ineffable gentleness in the blackness of this chapel. As Isaiah says in the Office of Readings today, the pyre is piled high with grass and wood, waiting for the sulphurous breath of God to light all afire! 

      “Lord God, breathe today on the pyre of my life, piled high with grace and sin, despair and hope, love and selfishness, fear and anger, questions and faith. Consume it Lord in the mad holocaust of your breath and your Spirit, where no sight, sound or taste can ever fully illumine or lead astray.”

      One of the gifts of keeping a spiritual journal is the opportunity to go back and discover where you were at in any given moment of life. What was I struggling with? What were the questions? What seemed important at the time?

      When I read these pondered scribblings from the past, I am always astonished by two recurring insights - how much my life has changed and how much it has not. The things that worried, overwhelmed and challenged me have come and gone, only to be replaced by others. I get a sense of having made some faltering steps of spiritual progress, yet readily acknowledge that I am only in the beginning stages of actual faith, love and prayer. 

      When persistent sins, failures and weaknesses over the years draw me to despair, I am also renewed in the deep experience of God’s silent patience and gentle mercy offered to me, beyond anything I could even imagine, deserve or attempt to grasp on my own.

      Having written this column and shared these musings with you, the fruit of a monastic retreat from years long ago, I feel a renewed urge to spiritually journal again in a consistent effort. God speaks to each one of us, prodigally casting seeds of faith, love and peace in the abundant soil of our human experience.             When we take the time to tend the soul’s garden and to meditate on how Jesus is making the mercy and presence of God incarnate in our lives and even dare to write about it, the Lord will invariably speak through us.

      Such insights faithfully contribute to the net quantity and quality of belief, comm, suffering, revelation and redemption of the world. What a privilege. What an opportunity. 

      Maybe God is calling you to write the journal of your soul!

 

       + Donald J. Hying