A Pen and a Path
A Pen and a Path: Writing as a Spiritual Practice
by Sarah Stockton
Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2004
Reviewed by Bobbie Bonk
In the introduction to her book, Sarah Stockton writes, “You are invited, through writing the ongoing story of your own life, to engage in a conversation with God as you weave together the themes, experiences, insights, and feelings that are the precious materials of your spiritual life so far” (p. ix). In a very gentle manner, this book makes use of topics such as spiritual identity, religious tradition, milestones, experience and the associated feelings, personal companions on the journey, and the larger world of work, vocation, future hopes and dreams. Thus, the dialogue that happens is deeply personal and unique. As no two people have the same “graced history” (p. xi), so no two people will approach this guide in the same way. Since individuals are at different stages of their lives, Stockton offers alternatives and options throughout the text. The words “even if...” as well as “may or may not...” appear many times and put the participant at ease. Yes, this book is not simply a book to read. It is one that begs for response.
Stockton refers to clinical psychologist James Pennebaker who holds that “narrative writing is the key to real transformation.” (p. x). If the two writing approaches of a technical perspective and raw feelings are combined, according to Pennebaker, “Our stories become narratives with plot, purpose, themes and meaning. By articulating our emotions and narrating the larger story of our lives, we claim that story...” (p. x). Stockton’s book invites the one who picks up a pen or uses a keyboard to write, review and claim his or her story, as someone loved by God.
The author’s method is a way of acknowledging that there is no perfect experience or story, but of recognizing who we are as we dialogue with God. There are five steps involved: Reflection, Pen in Hand (about 15 minutes of writing), Noticing, On the Path (a minimum of thirty minutes of writing), and Contemplation (p. 4-5). This structure offers an opportunity to go deeper and deeper into the mystery of how one is connected to God who listens to the story.
This is a wonderful tool for directees to use for self discovery as well as for sharing their stories with a spiritual director. Though this method is a personal, private tool which seems best done in quiet time, it lends itself to being done within a group context for those who are sharing faith together. It can be used by someone new to journaling or someone who would like to enhance his or her process and experience new insight through stretching beyond self imposed limits or comforts. By being faithful to the process and allowing God to speak, it seems that seekers of all ages can use this tool to fruition.
Bobbie Bonk works at a Roman Catholic church in Fort Collins, Colorado, USA. In addition, she facilitates retreats, offers spiritual direction, and volunteers with inmates at a local detention center. By participating in workshops for adult survivors of childhood abuse led by Mary’s Hope in Denver, Colorado, USA, she has enhanced her spiritual direction training from the Center for Spiritual at Work’s Formation Program for Spiritual Directors, also in Denver, Colorado, USA.