Busted Halo

Most dating and relationships books, columns and shows won’t go near issues of faith. Author, professor and speaker Dr. Christine B. Whelan assumes faith has some role, and tackles even the toughest questions.

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October 13th, 2008

Pure Sex, Pure Love

Prayer in Pen


“Each prayer is more beautiful than the others.
I cannot recite them all and not knowing which to choose,
I do like children who do not know how to read,
I say very simply to God what I wish to say,
without composing beautiful sentences,
and He always understands me.”
— Therese of Lisieux

The Ramona Quimby Diary was my first journal. I was seven, and helpfully it was fill-in-the-blanks. For most of 1985, I recorded my deepest thoughts and darkest secrets in that red, spiral-bound book: I never practiced piano like I was supposed to. I had a crush on a boy named David.

Under the “I guess I was kind of bad” page, I used the blank spaces to confess that I should not have… drawn on the wall of our apartment.

I did it because I was … mad.

And afterward I was … scared.

I concluded that it might have been better … if I had done it in pencil.

That pretty much set the stage for the next two decades. My 32 handwritten journals are the unabridged, uncut, un-spell-checked Christine Show. It’s the most sincere way I know how to pray.

When I was a child, my father would tuck me in at night and we would say our prayers together. As I got older, he’d knock on the door and I’d snap my journal shut as he walked in, hiding my top-secret thoughts.

When I turned 13, he said I was old enough to say prayers on my own. Of course, I promptly stopped. Thirteen often wasn’t a time for devout religiosity. The next decade wasn’t so stellar either.

Writing Instead of Praying
I felt guilty about my unwillingness to remember to say my evening prayers, but each night I wrote in my journal, and I slowly realized that writing was my daily prayer to God. Perhaps a heart-felt “Our Father” would have been better than three pages replicating my dinner conversation with a new boyfriend. If prayer is about what’s personally important, my journal chronicled the naked truth.

The early diaries have locks (to keep out my parents) and decorations (because fuzzy stickers were cool). The more recent ones are clothbound, lined and have beat up corners from too many trips in over-stuffed carry-on luggage. Like my changing vision of God, at different points in my life different types of journals have reflected my state of mind. There’s the red satiny book that I hoped would take me toward romance and adventures. There’s the placid book, colored green to help bring me calm. There’s the journal with the lines spaced tightly to keep me in line. Each of them carried me through to the next.

The entries aren’t addressed to anyone in particular, and the contents are never meant for public consumption. The writing is no-holds-barred life as I see it at that moment, especially at 2 a.m. after a big night out. I’m brutally honest with myself. I write in pen in a bound book, so there’s no deleting or typing over. When I begin a sentence, I have to finish it, no matter how uncomfortable the thought is. I seldom cross things out. And until I write it in my journal, it’s as if it hasn’t happened.

The difference between silent prayers and written ones is that there’s proof. There is a record of my thoughts and my transgressions, with full names, dates and details. I dumped a high-school boyfriend on Valentine’s Day. I endorsed Ross Perot for President at a high-school assembly. I’ve agonized endlessly over whether [fill in the guy’s name] would call. It’s all there in undeniable black-and-white.

But there are some benefits, too. Each journal entry literally turns a new page, offering a fresh start, a new prayer, a new beginning. I always finish an entry at the bottom of the page so that my next entry will stand on its own. And it’s a significant event when I start a new book: It’s a milestone, a new chapter in my life. Each time I put pen to paper I have permission to begin my story again.

Like prayer, journal writing is a constant: It’s always there when I need it, it never judges me and it helps me put life in focus. Sometimes I address God directly, but mostly I just know He’s tuned in. The way I see it, I dish my gossip, He smiles (and occasionally raises His eyebrows) and, by His Grace, I instantly feel better. I dump my panics and my passions on the page, and God takes it away.

Talking with God
Spoken or silent traditional prayer is my formalized plea for help, for faith, for strength or for forgiveness. And while I do it, I don’t do it very often. It somehow feels hollow, like I’m offering a laundry list of complaints and concerns. But writing my daily prayers, my daily passions, my daily stories makes me feel that God speaking through me, with me, helping me answer my own questions as I go along. I’ll scream (ALL CAPS), I’ll speak emphatically (each word underlined) and I’ll exclaim in surprise and confusion (!?!?!?!). It’s a conversation: God answers my questions in that pause after the pen marks the period before the new sentence begins.

I’ve saved all my journals, and I occasionally look back at previous episodes of the Christine Show as if it’s on TBS reruns. I wonder how I’d feel if the journals all went up in smoke some day. By simply accepting my thoughts and allowing me to think through what’s important, I think those beat up bound volumes have done their job.

The Ramona Quimby Diary started me off well at age seven. More than twenty years later, I still think with a pen in my hand, and although my current journals aren’t fill-in-the-blanks, those daily prayers do keep me between the lines.

The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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  • Nicholas Troilo

    I’ve been following Julia Cameron‚Äôs The Artist’s Way program of writing three hand written ages each morning. My “morning pages” have led me to a new awakening of my relationship with God whom I now see as a God inviting me to the continuing process of creation.
    My journals have been both prayer and participation. They are, in a way, a Genius experience for me.

  • Bill

    I used to journal. It’s become very sporatic, there were times while I was writting that I felt uncomfortable about the tone of a sentence. Maybe that was God telling me to watch out, or letting me know that I should look at a situations differently. Anyway, I never viewed it as prayer, but i see how it could be. Maybe I’ll start again.

  • Lindsay

    While I try to say my prayers every night I find that it has become more of a habit than a prayer. I pray for the same things, in the same order, night after night. Whether I do this because I truly want to give thanks or out of good old Catholic guilt, I’m not sure. I have journaled off and on for years about my fear, my joy and everything in between. After reading your article I hope that God is listening to that more than my nightly recitations.

  • Lori

    Thanks for the article Christine. I can definitely relate. Just last night I was flipping through a journal that I have (one of many) and noticed how though often stream of conscious I have had very many prayers addressing God directly.

    Since prayer is a communication with God, I think it matters most how you can communicate your thoughts best. I have always found it easiest to express my feelings through writing, but for some it may be a more verbal experience.

    It certainly is more permanent once written down, but I find it helps in keeping me on track in my life, allows me to learn from my past, and gives me hope that I can always “start a new page.”

  • Mike

    There’s a nakedness to putting all your un-edited thoughts before God and such a profound humbleness to this style of prayer–almost like confession but not as formal. Perhaps more like an examination of conscience or the Ignatian Examen. I don’t think I’d have the guts to write down these innermost thoughts but you have inspired me to at least try–if not daily, then from time to time.

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