7/27/2017 9:00:00 AM CLASSES Two parishes offer 'spiritual journaling' course
St. Madeleine Sophie parish in Schenectady will offer “Journaling as a Spiritual Practice” Sept. 21 and 28 and Oct. 5 and 12, 7-8 p.m. Contact Emma Aliwalas (518) 423-8444 or Donna Simone (518) 355-3115. Contact Christ Our Light parish in Loudonville at (518) 459-6635 or see www.christourlightchurch.org.
BY AMY LUKE STAFF WRITER
"I'm really excited about being able to share the benefits of this practice with other people, because I believe that it really results in a closer intimacy with God," said Anne Samson.
After teaching "spiritual journaling" classes at her home parish, Christ Our Light in Loudonville, Mrs. Samson was asked to do the same at St. Madeleine Sophie parish in Schenectady last fall.
Her passion for the practice of spiritual journaling grew while receiving support in the 1990s from Sacred Heart Sisters Elizabeth "Libby" Hoye and Mary Gen Smyth, directors of Abba House of Prayer in Albany (since closed).
At that time, Mrs. Samson and her husband were experiencing great heartache and difficulties, as their son was struggling with mental illnesses.
In 2013, Mrs. Samson published a spiritual memoir, "Abba House and Me," that discussed both Abba House and her own home life (read a previous story at www.evangelist.org). She was able to recall specific details for the book because of the spiritual journal she had kept during the years she was involved with Abba House. A friend who helped her with the book speculated that she might one day be teaching from it.
Mrs. Samson has now used her book and her background as a special education teacher to develop a curriculum for classes in spiritual journaling.
"It feels very God-directed," she said. "It feels natural. I said to my husband after I taught the first class at my own parish, 'It felt like breathing.'"
Over four sessions, participants in the spiritual journaling class are given tools and support to strengthen their inner prayer life through journaling.
Mrs. Samson told The Evangelist that, in the first session, students commit to the practice of spiritual journaling.
"It's an individual thing, so every individual has to make their own decision to do it for themselves and know what the benefits will be and how to fit it into their lives," she said.
In the second session, the focus is on learning to enjoy one's journaling.
"By the second class, people were already coming in and saying, 'Wow, I can't believe the things I've seen already.' I talk about the 'God-incidences' as opposed to the coincidences in life."
The third session focuses on the transformative power of spiritual journaling.
"I do a lot of talking about noticing the little things: the changes in their lives as a result of the practice; exploring different spiritual practices," said Mrs. Samson. She also challenges participants to explore other ways they can pray in order to transform their spiritual lives.
In the fourth session, participants focus on sticking to their commitments. Mrs. Samson emphasizes the importance of reading and studying Scripture.
The instructor started a monthly support group at Christ Our Light for spiritual journaling participants where, after the formal class concluded, they could motivate one another and hold each other accountable in continuing their practice. She hopes the same will happen at St. Madeleine Sophie parish.
Peggy and Leon Hovish attended Mrs. Samson's class at Christ Our Light and continue to go to the monthly "refresher" meetings.
"We need to support one another," said Mr. Hovish. When it comes to spiritual growth, "you can only do so much, and then you need community and friends to focus you and help you keep going with your faith in God."
Mr. Hovish had kept a journal since 1980, but not necessarily a spiritual one. He said he enjoyed how the class allowed him to develop his writing skills with a spiritual focus, and to open himself up to other people's views on their faith.
Mrs. Hovish told The Evangelist that she had never tried spiritual journaling before.
"It's very good for the prayer life," she said.
The couple enjoyed the round-robin sharing of journal entries. "Nobody would be forced to talk," Mr. Hovish noted. "It was very relaxed."
Mrs. Hovish liked this portion of the class because people would share what they were worried about in their spiritual life and the group would talk about how to resolve those issues.
Mr. Hovish sensed God's presence at the sessions, too: "In the New Testament, Jesus says, 'When two or three are gathered in my name, I'm there with you' [Mt 18:20]. You really do feel that. You're not talking about your family or joking; you're focusing on Him and the Father and the Spirit. For me, personally, I do feel His presence a little stronger."
Mrs. Samson hopes to teach the class at other parishes in the Albany Diocese. She'll also lead a spiritual journaling retreat May 18-20, 2018, at Linwood Spiritual Center in Rhinebeck.