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Monday, July 30, 2012

Journaling and Interpretive Imagination

This summer I'm in a class for Christian Spiritual Formation. We've covered a good bit of material, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Henri Nouwen, and Pierre Wolff, and I have to say, I've enjoyed it. One of the assignments (which has now been rendered optional, though I intend to do it) was to explore and practice a spiritual discipline with which I have never experimented or familiarized myself. I chose journaling. I've only been doing it for two days, and I'm not totally sure what to expect. Our professor e-mailed us this morning to tell us that this assignment was no longer a requirement, and for several reasons. The reason which stuck out in my mind most was that practicing a spiritual discipline and writing on it in a matter of a few months or weeks is highly artificial. By the time this paper will have been due, I'll only have journaled a couple of weeks, tops.

Even so, I think there is some value to beginning this discipline. It should not be a short term pursuit for the sake of a grade, and since that's no longer an issue, I feel it will be a good step toward a long-lived practice. In A. A. Calhoun's Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us, she is kind enough to give brief summaries of what different practices entail, scriptures to consider when performing them, and potential effects of their usage. I've considered journaling before, but not as a spiritual discipline. It was an overwhelming notion for me to attempt to write out all the events of my life as they were happening. However, Calhoun's handbook details that parts of the practice include the writing of poetry, scrapbooking, recording prayers, and attempting to view your life in terms of what God is doing.

The final bit there is most intriguing to me. This journaling has the potential for attempting to find how God is working in one's life. This is not just a passive kind of, "Oh, God totally saved me from getting hit by that car, and then he gave me a cool dream about riding unicorns!" It's the opportunity for interpretive imagination.

One of the beautiful things about reading the Gospels is their use of interpretive imagination. Where Historical Jesus studies find differences in whether Jesus actually did this or that, I tend to look at the instances when the author creatively uses Old Testament texts to present a narrative about Jesus. There are many parallels between Jesus and Moses in Matthew, usage of Isaiah in Mark, retellings of stories about Elijah and Elisha in Luke, etc. The Gospel writers are excellent crafters of story, especially considering the stories' roots in Hebrew literature.

This is, I think, one of the great opportunities of journaling: I have the chance to, in writing, explore the presence of God in the comings and goings of daily life, to interpret the normal in light of the extraordinary. So let's find some extraordinary.

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