Visit the Abbey of the Arts online retreat platform to access your programs:

Monk in the World Guest Post: Jo-Ellen Darling

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World Guest post series from the community. Read on for Jo-Ellen’s reflection adapted from her book, Journaling as a Spiritual Path: A Journey to Your True Self  and the Divine (Wild Ginger Press, 2022).

Journaling is Primarily a Labor of Self-Love 

Journaling is a way to stay close to myself and to the God of my understanding. It is loving  myself enough to want to engage in the deep mystery and truth of my own self, not only things  of the past, but in the here and now. Knowing and recovering myself takes commitment. This  requires me to explore my basic wants and needs, my wounds and mistakes, my joys, gifts and  desires, and my relationships. I’ve needed to dig deeply to find my past and present yearnings  for clues, such as those I had when I was a child and young adult, and what it is I dream about now, even if I think I cannot attain it fully in the present. 

In the early years of my contemplative spiritual formation, I was invited to explore a  relationship with God by spending time in nature. Journaling in nature becomes contemplative  when I reflect on the mystery, awe, and wonder in the natural world. I’ve come to deeply know  that all of us – and all created things – are carriers of God’s light in the grand incarnation.  

My sense is that God never becomes unavailable, never stops facilitating our growth, and never  gives up on us. We can be awakened at any moment, and our journals will ground us in the  present, holding all the many threads, lessons, insights and experiences that have made us who  we are today. 

Journaling is Countercultural 

Over the years, I’ve found that tending to myself and my spiritual life is countercultural – even  in some spiritual and religious communities. Part of the difficulty is that so much of life is  geared to explore things outside of ourselves, often at the expense of searching inwardly for  answers. Being faithful to our responsibilities and finding that inner path of purpose that only  we are meant to find, isn’t easy. One reason could be is that we’re so busy doing for others that  we’re neglecting ourselves.  

I remember when self-care initially felt selfish. Yet, reprioritizing my activities became necessary for me to be able to sink into what was most deeply drawing the attention of my soul. Taking time to discerng my priorities also presented another obstacle: I was afraid to risk  others’ disapproval. Yet by committing to the process of journaling, my callings and my own  transformation continue to be revealed. 

Journaling is an Act of Radical Self-Care 

Nurturing myself helps me value and find compassion for myself, no matter what has  happened. Self-care strengthens my spirit as I find the courage to do whatever it takes to find support and make healthy changes. Caring about myself sends a signal to my soul that I am not  abandoning myself, that I’m worth the trouble, and that I won’t let myself completely lose the way.  

Being in a state of unknowing is not the same as losing my way. When I’ve lost my way  completely, I’ve probably abandoned myself for a long time. On the other hand, a place of  unknowing can include waiting for clarity or the next thing to be revealed. I may or may not  already have a sense of direction of where I’m headed, but I usually have a sense of trust and  peace. In the frame of self-care, I’m more likely to see my options more clearly. Journaling my experiences and returning to their important lessons provides a pattern of unfolding that  begins to show me how the divine operates in my life.  

Journaling Helps Me to Mourn My Losses 

A wise therapist once told me, “The way you get through trauma is to process it.” So it is with  sorrows, and maybe especially those I have not yet mourned. Grief is the pain inside us and mourning is how we give voice to that pain. An accompanying journal is one way that provides  the sacred space and time for mourning my grief; it allows me to plan what I need to do to take  care of myself during this important season, and to savor the growth and healing that follows.  Keeping a journal, attending bereavement groups, contemplative prayer groups, 12-step groups and individual therapy, as well as talking with soul friends, spiritual directors and spouses, are  ways to mourn and process grief with others.  

Journaling Helps Me to Find My Voice 

Through the process of inward listening and journaling, my spiritual growth is sustained.  Journaling strengthens my voice. My voice is an extension of the listening I do and the true self I  am discovering and living into. Not everyone will agree or approve of our voice, but we’re  learning that this is not as important as it used to be.  

Regular times of silence and solitude provide a way to listen and find my voice. Over the years,  my voice has become more consistent – both stronger and more authentic – by the surprising  discoveries I’ve made about life, myself, God, and others. As our lives unfold in and outside of our journals, we will know the places where we can no longer compromise, as well as the  places where we need to be challenged to grow. I’m convinced that discovering the God of my  understanding and my truest self are two of the most amazing, grounding, and life-changing  choices I will ever make.

Copyright © Jo-Ellen A. Darling. All rights reserved.

Jo-Ellen A. Darling began to journal at age 30 following an intense episode of spiritual  awakening. Thirty-five years later, her journaling continues to be an amazing inner journey of  reflection and discernment, self-knowledge, creative expression, and continued spiritual  growth. After completing a BA in English, Jo-Ellen wrote professionally for 35 years in the medical, technology, and electric utility sectors as well as for newspapers and other  publications. In 2014 she co-edited the book On The Journey for the Kairos School of Spiritual  Formation, where she received certificates in Spiritual Formation in 2011. She later completed  several graduate courses at Moravian Seminary, including Ignatian Exercises: Theology &  Practice, and Contemplative Communication & Relationship. In 2022, Jo-Ellen self-published  Journaling as a Spiritual Path, A Journey to Your True Self and the Divine in partnership with  Wild Ginger Press, now available on Amazon and other online bookstores. Inspired by the  spiritual power and healing that journaling has brought to her own spiritual journey, and the  compassionate and loving God who never abandons us, Jo-Ellen has offered contemplative  writing and journaling retreats since 2013.

Journaling as a Spiritual Path is available on Amazon and many online bookstores. Visit Jo-Ellen Darling’s website at and her Facebook page

You might also enjoy

Monk in the World Guest Post: Meg Munro

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Meg Munro’s reflection and paintings on her relationship with the Beloved Mother-Virgin. I had been despairing that my passion for painting was

Read More »