Karen Hardin could write a book. In essence, really, she has written more than 30, filling spiral notebooks, hardcover blank books, and diaries with the stories of her life.

For nearly 25 years, this woman from Franklin, Ind., has been an avid writer, jotting down the details of her days, recalling moments of gratitude and joy, using words to navigate anger and sorrow.

But like many people who have caught on to "journaling" as a means of self-expression, Hardin is searching for something deeper, something sacred. Journaling has become her spiritual journey. Placing pen to paper, she is charting a personal road map.

A growing number of books and workshops about journaling are tapping into this spiritual longing, striving to help people to develop the discipline of journal writing and delve deeper for spiritual understanding.

Sister Joyce Diltz leads one of those workshops. A Catholic sister from East Chicago, Ind., Diltz says the last decade has brought a growing interest in journaling as a tool for spiritual growth.

"Some people say that when they journal, it puts them in the same space as when they pray," she says. "The practice opens their lives to God."

It does so by demanding honesty and trust and as a result, Sister Diltz says, a measure of emotional courage. Stripping away masks.
So even though there are no hard-and-fast rules to journaling, the most effective personal writing is writing that strips away the "masks and unintended compromises of our daily lives," Sister Diltz says. "And the more we come to know ourselves, the more truthfully we can come to God as we are and to be loved by God as we are."

Hardin has been a dedicated journal writer since 1977 when she was a young nurse. Writing became a daily exercise in creativity and a refreshing break from her hectic work life. Over time, she came to see her journal as a trusted confidant, a place to turn to share her intense feelings of happiness and sorrow, anger and peace. Most recently, Hardin has realized through journal writing that she is wrestling with God.

"I grew up being very religious--going to church and Sunday school and praying. Then I got away from it," she recalls. "Now I am trying to redevelop my relationship with God and part of that is trying to figure out what sent me away."

Disease took toll
In 1954, when Hardin was 4, the polio virus invaded her childhood home in Franklin. The disease crippled Hardin's mother, Mary, but skipped over Hardin and her two brothers. Now 83, Hardin's mother has been paralyzed from the waist down for more than half her life.

"For a long time, I wanted to know from God why she got polio and why God wouldn't just fix it," Hardin says. "I prayed about it and all my prayers weren't answered the way I wanted them to be answered."

Anger at polio and at God sometimes became anger toward her mother, an unexplainable anger, Hardin says.

But journal work has brought deep personal insight into how a mother's illness influenced her daughter's life. She became a nurse, this culture's ultimate caregiver. Working in California and later in New York, she spent much of her career running the AIDS wing of a hospital.

For as long as she can remember, Hardin knew that one day she would take care of her mother. Throughout her childhood and, until two years ago, Hardin watched her father care for her mother's every need. With his death in 1999, Hardin moved home to Franklin and became her mother's nurse.

Perhaps Hardin chose the career 30 years ago knowing that the day would come. The thought has crossed her mind because the words have flowed from her pen onto the pages of her journals.

And, in writing, Hardin wondered why she felt more competent in caring for dying AIDS patients--near strangers--than she did in caring for her own mother.

"Isn't this care-giving what I have prepared my whole life for? Have I never really forgiven God?" she asks, mirroring the questions asked in her journals. "This is the main focus right now in my writing."

Writer and teacher Lou Beeker Schultz believes that a commitment to journal writing can bring forth the answers to spiritual questions. She has been journaling for 25 years and teaches the discipline in workshops, at retreats, and in university continuing- education programs.

Journaling in search of spiritual meaning takes more than daily diary entries about "what happened today," she says. It is really about reflecting on how you feel about what happened today. Some writers can sit in a quiet space, she says, place their pen on the page and write their way to those feelings. Other people need prompts, specific exercises often shaped by questions:

  • What were the most significant events of my day?
  • How was this day different from all other days?
  • What were the meaningful conversations I experienced today?

  • Although these questions aren't religious, they can move a writer to a deeper awareness of daily life, Schultz says. Faithful journaling can bring about feelings of gratitude and joy. In short, she says, spiritual journal-writing is about making time in a busy life to find meaning beyond the mundane: "Journaling," she says, "is listening to your soul."

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