Author: Jackee Holder 10th February 2014
Over the years I have come to a place of recognition that writing is a spiritual practice and writing is the way some people pray.
I grew up in the trenches of the African Caribbean Pentecostal church in inner city London. Attending church was the centrepiece of our lives.
In the churches of my childhood prayer was a performance and prayers were recited loudly. I’m talking here about deep down in the back of your throat volumes you could hear half way down the street. Or prayers were delivered as squeals, screams and wails often accompanied with pole vaulting jumps and body moves (that if you changed the scene you would have easily thought you were in the local Saturday night dance hall) from sister so and so who would fling herself to the floor as she wriggled back and forth wrestling with the Holy Spirit. The whole drama around prayer left me very confused. When it came to prayer I couldn’t find my voice. To me prayers were out of reach.
By the time I was a teenager and I’d discovered the power of the bare page I was ready to jump ship and seek alternative ways to connect with God.
Because of my upbringing in the church I was secretly hoping and praying for some mystical experience, like the revelation Saul received on the road to Damascus that would somehow turn my life around. I wanted sexy and sacred. Even in my training as an interfaith minister I envied my peers who would retell mystical experience one after the other and I’d think how comes I’m not experiencing the same thing?
But I did and I was. My mystical experiences came through the back door and revealed themselves quietly and with no fanfare on the blank journal pages, where I could be myself minus the condemnation, the judgment and the harsh tones I related to prayer and my Christian upbringing. On the naked page, I stripped and came out of hiding. I could safely reveal my inner most thoughts, unpack my inner most secrets without the fear of being labelled as bad or having something wrong with me.
Scrawled along the lines on the page my handwriting revealed both my flaws and my strengths side by side. The blank page never questioning, instead objectively accepting the duality and complexity of both flaws and strengths without judgement and no questions asked.
It was in between the pages of the many journals that I have kept over the years that I have been able to nurse myself back to strength. Writing helped me break free from unhealthy relationships, pick up the pieces of shattered self esteem inherited from childhood and bounce back from the broken hearts and the loss of faith. By writing how I felt and exploring what was going on inside I was able to release many emotions that could have festered and become toxic. Hemingway famously said, ‘many of us are broken but we are stronger in those broken places. In between the failure and the difficult rites of passage we all go through were also references and sometimes detailed plans describing my dreams and the joys I personally experienced on a day-to-day basis.
In the church of my childhood at the end of each Sunday service the grand finale was the altar call. Sinners would be chastised, cajoled made to feel guilty into making their way to the alter and ‘giving their hearts to the Lord.” Years later my journal became a better version of my own personalised - altar call. It became a place where I discovered I could listen to my own inner wisdom and where I learnt to really hear my own voice.
My journal transformed into a temple where I regularly met with the God of my own choice, which in my case I now refer to as Spirit. In the pause, between the breaths, writing in my journal allows my to connect with my own presence, in the here and the now. Where stillness is sweet and where it speaks – compassionately. With finger tips moving across the page or the keyboard I can feel the tender breeze of presence touch me softly, causing my words to soften and spill onto the page, reminding me as I write that whatever is going on in my life right now is okay. A thought echoed in the ancient words of the Persian poet Hafiz, “ This place where you are right now God circled on a map for you.”
If I had to save one item from my home in the event of a disaster I would run for my journals. Why? Because, my journals hold the blue print of who I have been and who I have become. They hold portraits and landscapes of who I am behind Jackee in the great dress, the funky hairdo, or comments like, “you really look great when all the time I feel like shit.” As Pat Schneider says in her writing memoir, How the Light Gets In, ‘it takes courage to write honesty, so also it takes courage to pray honestly.’
Note from Eileen
I recorded a conversation with Jackee for my Spiritual Insights for Writers newsletter last year. We talked about her book, 49 Ways to Write Yourself Well. I thoroughly enjoyed her book and it's full of dozens of useful strategies, tips and hints to help you take your writing, and spiritual practice deeper.
Check out all Jackee offers on her website
You can listen to the recording here.