“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” – Colossians 3:16.
As I progressed (regressed?) through my college years in the late 70’s, I began to keep notes on what I was learning from reading the Bible. I had no other plan in mind, so I simply began to write in the margins of a basic New American Standard version that I was using at the time. Ten years later, I was still writing cramped notes in miniature hand printing in that same copy. After my third or fifth study trip through some of the books, note space on the bible’s pages was becoming limited. I still have the bible, and relish hauling it out to review what I was learning at that time in my life.
My technique was to cram as much as I could in a marginal note, while at the same time trying to write as concisely as possible and still convey what I had learned. I used few study tools, relying instead on listening for what the Holy Spirit might be saying as I read and meditated. I also occasionally resorted to cross referencing words and passages, using a concordance to find other word use instances, and consulting a commentary or dictionary. Perhaps the greatest benefit was the practice at opening the Word of God, asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate the words and speak to the heart, and recording what He brought forward in my study times. These were rich times, even though the notes I had recorded were minimalist at best.
“Minimalist” is extravagant flattery, to be honest.
Over the years I tried different bibles, including one that had blank pages you could add for journaling. I kept returning to the old stand-by, which was getting pretty crowded in the margins. About this time, perhaps twelve years into the cramped marginal notes experiment, I stopped reading any fiction and began reading only true adventure stories and other non-fiction books. One of the factors common in the books on the great people I was reading was that the stories relied heavily on their personal journals for information. It occurred to me that most of the people whose life stories were so inspiring were journal keepers, and that the journaling process seemed to be of great importance to them. I decided to go buy a journal and begin to record my spiritual and wilderness journeys. I promptly purchased a fine-looking book with lined pages.
Some three years later, the idea of journaling came to me once again. After about 30 minutes of searching, I found the still-unopened journal, blew the dust off the edges, and finally sat down to start writing. It was a strange experience to have so much room to write on each page. Even so, my cramped and tiny writing style I used for marginal notes ruled the day, and I could pack quite a bit of nearly legible words on a single page.
Not knowing what to write, I started with my old study-note style and let that process flow. Over time, I began to fill in additional thoughts and applications from passages, as well as adding my thoughts on events and activities in my life. Successes, failures, truths, hopes, dreams, pains, and set-backs came to written life in this, my first journal. Over time, my topics settled into being mostly waypoints in my spiritual journey, the various conversations I had with my God, and a few wilderness adventures.
Currently, my journaling takes place in the quiet early mornings, at my table or sitting by the front window to watch the morning arrive. I write a page or two, sometimes more. On a recent solo canoe trek I wrote nearly five pages per day, perhaps a product of having no one to speak with for that time. For me, consistency is being in the book most days each week, and most weeks that is six days. I write about what I am learning from my bible studies or from great books. I write about the issues my God is speaking to me about, and the people from whom I am learning.
There are twenty completed journals on the shelf behind me, proof that if you stay with a discipline for a while, it becomes a part of who you are. It took thirteen years to finally start writing in a real journal (my earlier marginal-note efforts were journaling as well, but spare and sparse), but now I have some twenty-six years of regular journal writing under my belt. It has been rich, rewarding, and engaging. Most of all, it creates a space nearly every day in which I sit with My God and listen for His words and guidance. That process has radically transformed every aspect of my living.