I have an iPad. I don’t need a journal. I read the daily gospel. I go to church (or at least I did in the time before). I don’t need help drawing closer to God. I’m good. I’m Catholic, for crying out loud. What could I possibly gain from
Still, the elegant grey notebook, with its regal purple ribbons kept appearing on my IG feed, almost taunting me with its simple photos and premise. “Oh IG,” I lamented, “you know me so well.” And so I clicked the “add to cart” button almost in spite of myself. Or perhaps to spite my self.
I was not disappointed. The book that arrived soon after my order was sturdy and thoughtfully laid out. It was satisfying to my touch and sight. I wanted to write in it and it felt full of potential even (or maybe especially) in its emptiness.
The daily lay out is simple and invites a morning and evening reflection. Fill out the date and a few spots in the morning and then reflect at the end of the day with a quick sentence in the weekly reflection spots in the second half of the journal (ergo, not one but TWO ribbons to mark pages). At the end of the week, use the short daily reflections, which I had been filling out as I went, to spark a more in-depth weekly reflection. Very simple but very effective.
At first glance, filling out a form might not seem like a spiritual practice but it is satisfying and confidence building. And there’s much to be said for easing into things, getting a little kick start with putting pen to paper with the know-ables (“The date? Oh, I know that!”) before launching into exploring the mysteries of life, the undefinables.
This was not my first time using a journal. I’ve had stretches of time in my life when I was fairly consistent about writing down my thoughts in a notebook of sort. But, like many of these sorts of things, this practice has waxed and waned. I went to graduate school for writing and so, for those four years, everything I wrote was for classes or my thesis, which shifted the way I thought about writing. I wrote reams and reams (more like RAMs and RAMs if you know what I mean) for an audience or a class or a professor or an assessment. I traded in my writing for therapy for writing for judgment. It’s a hard rut to drive out of.
In a recent book club discussion, we explored for a few brief moments the differences between books written to ultimately be turned into movies and those that are written for an audience of readers. I was reminded of emails when I was working towards my MFA in writing. Every so often, one of the film students (same school, different division) would send out a plea to the writing students for material, short stories or other source material that could be turned into a film. The idea that writing could (should?) be cinematic was in the ether floating along holding hands with its friends: story, narrative, scene, visual. It was in this highly visual Petri dish that many of my notions about what my writing should be were formed.
And so it was, that I, more or less, stopped writing.
Yes, in part, I was also busy with my kids and life. But I was also waiting, waiting for the narrative (holy of holies) to reveal itself. Waiting for the stories. My MFA was in nonfiction and one of the notions I walked away with was that you can’t force the narrative, you can’t cantilever the story into reality (nor vice versa). We can’t lie. And how often does reality show up on your doorstep in neatly packaged stories replete with narrative arc and denouement? Does reality reveal itself in scenes? I suppose Jaques would argue yes, what with his thoughts on entrances and exits. And certainly, I had long been training myself to find the scenes, to experience life in writerly vignettes.
Let me tell you what, dear reader, it’s no way to live. It’s impossible to inhabit a moment, to be fully present to it when your brain is trying to figure out how each moment might look “on the page.”
What does this have to do with the Kairos journal? It got me back into writing. Kairos (as the book designers remind us on an opening page) is Greek for “the appropriate time for something to occur or for something to be accomplished.” It seems the time was right for me to remember what writing had done for me as a kid or in times in life when I had regularly carved out some time to write for an audience of one, before I convinced myself that only good writing is worth doing and only narrative writing is good.
Because here’s the truth: all the writing is good.
And the Kairos journal, with its clear questions and fill in the blank type structure felt solid and do-able and not overwhelming at all. I felt I was bolstered by having the daily missal to read and choose a passage from, a sort of mini lectio divina. And it was less overwhelming than hauling, say, the entire bible out each morning. And pretty early on in my Kairos journaling, I let go of the idea of memorizing the chosen scripture. I know, I know, we Catholics are the worst for memorizing. The ideas are in my heart but, well, if Saint Peter asks me to name chapter and verse, those gates are NOT opening, I’ll tell you what.
In the end, I have twelve weeks of daily reflections and those pages feel like an accomplishment on par with even my MFA thesis even though it’s fewer words and intended for fewer readers (although not by much because I’d be shocked if anyone other than my two advisors read my thesis).
In the final days of the journal, I started to not really use the questions or guidelines much at all, just sort of using the pages to write and reflect. But I needed those guidelines in the early days just to get myself to put pen to paper and in glancing over the pages from the the latter days, I can almost feel the eagerness to explore the passages and document my days as I write through and over the guidelines and instructions. So it was a good thing.
So good in fact, that even though my Kairos journal is filled up now, I have continued and even expanded this practice and using some of what I took away from the Kairos journal and making it my own and to fit my spiritual needs. I still write twice a day, but now I use two different texts: the daily mass reading and gospel in the morning and the Tao Te Ching (which I’ve read before but it’s been a while) in the evening. I’ve split up my journal so that at the end of the week, I still do a weekly reflection at the back, which I’m hoping will work as sort of mini summaries of each week.
It has proven to be a fruitful practice.
Let me leave you with this. The early evening May shadows flicker across the table where I sit writing on my device. A motorcycle whines over the birdsong outside and the click, click of my keyboard and that of my daughter, on the computer and just out of sight behind a wall. My son calls out for me or my husband, either one will do, and kicks, bang, bang, the side of his crib.