As a child I vaguely knew that my grampop Clemmer kept a diary.
Ten years ago I had the privilege of reading some of them. Thus I found out when my Aunt Esther got new wallpaper in her bedroom, when the family got their first telephone, and who went to the hospital for what purpose and for how long. I saw how much my grandfather paid a nurse when one was needed for my sickly grandmother Lizzie.
I also learned about purchases for the family business, the Moyer & Son feed mill. Grampop documented excursions he took with my great-uncle Jake to buy a new adding machine, or a pair of black or brown horses to haul wagons of feed or coal to customers.
I found out about burials at church, a packed house for the annual Harvest Home Service, and the time the communion wine was watered down too much. I found out that my grampop was once in the lot for minister at Souderton Mennonite, but another man chose the book with the slip of paper that signaled his call.
I heard the facts about all sorts of things, but from my grandfather’s diaries I could only guess how he felt about them. He never said or even hinted….
So…I knew about diaries, but I only learned about journals at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School. In Grade 9 I started keeping my own journal. An early entry, dated January 28, 1962, read like this:
The practice of keeping a journal where I explored my feelings became hugely important for me. I did so off and on as a college student and as a young adult. Then when I became a pastor 31 years ago, I began writing in my journal almost every morning, before the activity of the day got underway.
Keeping an almost daily journal continues to help me talk to God and to myself. It helps me know what I’m thinking and feeling. I owe my start to Miss Longacre – now Anna Mary Brubacher of Kitchener, Ontario.
At one point – maybe 20 years ago – I thought my edited journals might be published in some form after I died. I even named someone to read and edit and make decisions about them. Later I realized that my journals are for my eyes only and should eventually be destroyed. So four years ago as we were downsizing, I read a lot of old journals and then shredded them, keeping only the ones from the preceding seven years.
Every January since that time, I’ve read and shredded another year of journals. Reading those old journals has become a spiritual practice – a review of my inner life, my fervent prayers, and my joys and struggles. At times I was dismayed at getting stuck in a struggle for an inordinate period of time, and was more than ready to shred the memory of it! Yet in a few other cases I decided to keep an old journal, because it chronicled so well how I had worked through a major transition.
My reading of old journals also reminds me of significant spirituality books which accompanied me at certain times, such as Love: A Guide for Prayer. Sometimes I’ve torn a quote from such a book out of the journal I’m about to shred, and pasted it into my current one. Sometimes I’ve pulled a book off the shelf and browsed through it again.
Keeping a journal and reviewing it are significant means of soul nourishment for me. When I read an old journal, or even review a recent one, I often recognize God’s spirit come near….
Questions for Reflection:
- Have you ever kept a diary? A journal? If so, has that practice brought nourishment to your spirit? In what ways?
Next week: The Isle of Iona: Finding God in a Sheep Pasture