Journaling: A Way to Find God, Says NPTS Professor

Post a Comment » Written on August 28th, 2008     
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CHICAGO, IL (August 28, 2008) – Helen Cepero, director of spiritual formation at North Park Theological Seminary, says she didn’t realize how vulnerable she was in her new book on journaling was until she reread it.

Journaling as a Spiritual Practice: Encountering God Through Attentive Writing includes distillations from Cepero’s own journal that explore various parts of her life. Passages reveal the fact that she has dealt with a physical disability, the struggles and joys of her relationship with God, and even how swimming strengthens her physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

“What I’m trying to do is say, ‘Here is something from my life; you might have something like this in your life,’ ” says Cepero. She is most happy that “I hear my authentic voice. That’s really me.”

The personal nature of the book, which also interweaves theological reflections and insights from fellow journalers, sets the book apart from others on the subject, Cepero says. “This is not a textbook.”

Cepero promotes the spiritual exercise because, “Journaling is an accessible and mostly non-threatening way for people to journey to themselves and God.”

To enrich the reader’s journey, each chapter offers structured guidance. “Following a structure means you’re not doing it alone,” Cepero says. “My goal is not to make people become journalers but that they would be transformed.”

The process of transformation can be intimidating at times, however, she acknowledges. Many of us have really big critics living inside of us,” she explains. “People feel like their life isn’t good enough.”

Cepero emphasizes that journaling benefits people if they focus on the positives in their lives as well as difficult issues. “We throw away the good stuff. We need to pick that up again.”

Although most people consider journaling a private activity, Cepero believes her book is best used in community. She has included an appendix on how small groups can use it together. Group members can help support others and offer fresh insights.

“How someone else hears the same thing may surprise you,” Cepero says.

Cepero has used the material in the book over the past several years with students at the seminary. Part of that work has included sharing parts of their journals, although she never requires students to share anything they are uncomfortable revealing. Students have expressed how beneficial the practice has been.

Although she is a strong proponent of journaling, Cepero is no legalist. She takes issue with other writers who stress that people must journal every day. “Hardly any of us does that.”

Yet all too frequently that expectation is what keeps people from starting, Cepero says. She adds, however, “We don’t say, ‘If you don’t pray every day, then you shouldn’t do it.’ ”

Those expectations also have induced unnecessary guilt. “I always have people apologize when they begin a journaling class,” Cepero says.

People will be helped if they remember, “You can’t do it because it’s something you ‘have to do,’ ” Cepero says. “It’s not the end in itself.”

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