A Word: Journaling and the Spiritual Life
By Caroline Adams
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:1, 14
The idea in the first chapter of John is a little convoluted, far-reaching, and perhaps, at times, nonsensical. We barely have enough time to let it sink in before the story brings us to a manger in Bethlehem, and the cozy, familiar narrative causes us to forget the whole thing even happened. However, the statement is there all the same, written (ironically enough) in words we understand but have such trouble comprehending: Jesus is a Word. He is a Word that was there in the beginning, a Word that came from God but also somehow is God; a Word that is written into being with not a pen, but with life, not with ink, but with flesh; a Word that that lives.
I like to think of Jesus as a Word rather than a Prince or a King or a Son of Man. I don’t know much about royalty or about being a powerful man, but I do know about words. To me, words are intimate, personal, and sacred. They help us understand our inner most thoughts and they bring us together. Words are also powerful—they can hurt and they can heal. Words have a fluidity to them—they travel with us through many experiences of life and mean different things to us at different times. Sometimes, words are all we have to help us understand one another. So, yes, crazy as it may sound, I like to think of Jesus a Word.
I have never been very successful bringing my own words to life through a regular practice of journaling. I am plagued by a self doubt that tells me I’m not a good writer, that my thoughts do not matter, and that my words are inadequate. The Editor in my mind cannot be quiet long enough to just let the words be. I often lose patience with my lack of ability and close the notebook before it all gets too painful.
However, a few years ago I received a journal prompt that has never let me go. The instructions were in response to these beautiful words-made-flesh from Emily Dickinson:
A WORD is dead
When it is said,
I say it just
Begins to live
With the belief that words have a life among us, we were encouraged to journal about a word that ‘lives’ within our entire being, a word that is embedded in us emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. In other words, what is the “word made flesh” in your life?
When I think about my word, the word that comes alive when I hear it, the practice of journaling becomes second nature. The increscent voice of self-doubt in my head is silenced because I have turned the focus from myself, my ego, my reputation, and am instead writing about the word that makes me feel alive, the word the makes me who I am. My words of life have changed over the years, but they are all still gifts to me, windows to my true self.
In a way, I believe the call to a rich spiritual life has the same prompting—what is alive within us? What rests in our souls beyond our day-to-day stresses, our perfectionist tendencies, our need to succeed? When journaling is about our source of life then it becomes not only an exercise in our inherent creative-ness, but also a deep, resounding awareness of the Word that is made flesh among us, the Word of love that calls us into deeper relationship with ourselves, our neighbor, and our creator.
What is your word? What lives within your entire being? What word that when spoken, when given life, causes a response and a calling in you unlike any other word? Now, pick up a pen and give it life.
Caroline Adams is an Assistant Director of Education, Programming and Connections at Scarritt Bennett Center. She works primarily with Spiritual Formation programming which includes programs such as Tuesdays in the Chapel, Vespers and All That Jazz, Poet’s Corner, and the Laskey Gallery. She holds a Masters of Divinity and a Certificate in Religion and the Arts in Contemporary Culture from Vanderbilt Divinity School.