Contemplate the Blank Page

orchard-lodgeI don’t remember if orange and yellow flamed in the woodstove of Quaker Center’s Orchard Lodge the first night seventeen of us gathered there for a Journaling as Meditation workshop. 2016-journaling-as-meditation-flyer-draft-v3-2But I do recall the warmth and enthusiasm during introductions as participants revealed to me and my co-leader, Deborah Nedelman, their desire to begin—or resume—a spiritual journaling practice. Some admitted past “failed” attempts to sustain a writing routine; some described a yearning for new avenues to encounter the Divine; others sought the time and support to return to a familiar, but neglected, discipline.


Most looked forward to creating their own handbound journals, but several acknowledged worry that their musings and reflections wouldn’t be worthy of the handcrafted container we proposed we’d make. We started simply, using bone folders— tongue depressor-shaped bookbinding tools—to crease creamy, linen paper in half. Once ten sheets were folded and nested inside each other, it was time to write.

Anyone who trembles at the sight of a blank piece of paper can imagine the anxiety of facing a pristine stack of pages. I reminded the prospective journalers that there’s no rule that requires starting on the first sheet of a new journal and encouraged them to leave it blank; later they could return to it and add an epigraph, a dedication, an image, a poem, or a title. I also suggested saving some empty pages to create a table of contents as their journals evolved. I more insistently advised writing contact information in the back in case, as has happened far too often, any of them left their creations on a bus, at a coffee shop, or beside a mountain trail. Fortunately, there are many “left-behind journal” stories with happy endings because a phone number or email address was written inside.

Perhaps the most useful advice we offered—many times over the course of the workshop­­—is that there’s no “wrong” way to journal. For that first reminder, I quoted G. Lynn Nelson’s Writing and Being:

“…the more I let go of concerns about form and arriving at answers, the more energy I have just to follow the river of my own being.”

Then we settled into silence, following the river of our own beings, to think back over the previous 24 hours and write in response to these questions:

Where has God been present in your life?

            How did you meet the Spirit today?

            How were you drawn to the Light today?

            Have you learned anything about God and God’s ways of working in your life?


The next morning, we gathered in silence, examining colorful papers laid out on tables in the Casa de Luz.casadeluz


By the time we broke for lunch, we’d glued the papers to book board and placed them under weights to dry overnight.

And we’d written/collaged/sketched some more, this time in response to a prompt adapted from Writing and Being:

Look back over yesterday for acts of love. List kindnesses you received from others that day. Next, list kindnesses you did for others yesterday, and then at least one kindness you did for yourself.

 After lunch (just one of the delicious, nutritious, beautiful, vegetarian meals prepared by Quaker Center chef Tod Nysether), we welcomed a couple hours of free time, dodging downpours in this redwood rain forest. I found the Center’s labyrinth especially restorative.

We gathered again later in the afternoon and after dinner for times to share about the workshop experience, to poke holes in the pages to prepare them for binding, and for more journaling. Mary Morrison’sPendle Hill pamphlet, Live the Questions, Write into the Answers, served as a source for reflection:

Write, identifying the most important questions in your life right now. Don’t try to come up with the answers, but let the questions flow and let yourself list questions that are really on your mind. Then choose one of your questions and write about it, identifying and exploring as many aspects of it as you can uncover.

Open your eyes, heart, mind, to catch the significant moments, the moments of meaning, moments of being, and try to write them down in all their heightened significance. What are some of these moments?

For our final workshop session on Sunday morning, we again gathered silently, ringing the table that held the weighted book covers. In the quiet, we admired the transformation of cardboard and paper into colorful sanctuaries for words and images.

journalsAfter poking holes in the covers to match those of the interior, we secured the pages with waxed linen thread. Our final prompt was an invitation to write about dreams—or anything that was calling to us for reflection. Finally, I gave these instructions:

 Thumb through your journal. Breathe. Smile.


I don’t know how many (or if any) of the participants have continued to journal, as a meditative practice or in any other way. I do know that I left with fewer blank pages in my own journal and feeling spiritually nourished.



  1. This is lovely, and reminds me of the sweet workshop you did at Pendle Hill, how many years ago? I am sending this to Barbarajene Williams, my dear Spiritual director, and Connie Lezenby, a spiritual friend. You are a national treasure, dear one, and if that embarrasses you, well, just give all the glory to God!! Big love, M.

    Sent from my iPad


    1. Oh, Mickey, I’m blushing! Thank you for your kind words. Yes, I remember the Pendle Hill workshop too – it was in 2011. You were a superb elder! I’m grateful that this work speaks to people. Big love to you, too.

  2. Unless it were possible to manufacture our own rollerball pens, I can’t think of a better gift-to-self, for a writer, than a self-made journal. YOU are a gift to writers, Iris, for spreading this.

    1. So kind of you, Gretchen. I do feel fortunate to have – and share – this journal-making skill. Being able to make my own, unique journals is one of the many tricks that helps me keep my pen moving.

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