In terms of the Spiritual Exercises, one critical goal of writing a spiritual autobiography is to recognize God’s action in our past: God’s presence, grace, and gifts to us.
If you have done the exercises of Part 1, then you have looked at significant wounds and sins in your life story, and you have received mercy, forgiveness, help, and healing. These processes are ongoing—it can take a long time for healing to be complete—but at the least you have begun to see your past in light of God’s healing and grace. This leaves you freer to embark on the exercises of Part 2.
Writing Exercise #1
Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your remembering.
Prayerfully consider your life by stages. Spend some time allowing memories of early childhood to arise. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where God was present and at work: in happy events, loving relationships, talents you had, activities you enjoyed, and so forth. Do this with each life stage. You can do it somewhat quickly, as an overview. Or you can take a different life stage for each day or period of prayer.
As you take notes on your memories, don’t worry so much about the literal facts such as dates, sequence of events, exact places, and so forth. Memory is quite subjective and unreliable in the most literal sense. Write more about how you perceived what happened. How do you remember the event? How did you feel then? How do you feel now?
Write down as many words and phrases as you can that describe God’s presence, gifts, and graces: I was so at peace, gratitude, we had such a wonderful time that day, I still love to paint, that friendship kept me going, and so on.
End with a prayer something like this: Holy Spirit, we have opened this grace-filled part of my story. Help me remember vividly and truly celebrate these gifts. Help me see, also, how they continue to provide healthy resources for my life.
Writing Exercise #2
Invite Jesus to sit with you as you review the notes you have written about the gifts and graces in your history. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your thoughts and perceptions as you talk with Jesus.
Choose a specific event, gift, or grace, and talk with Jesus about it. Here are some suggestions to start:
- Lord, I think this is what was going on with me when this happened…
- I didn’t see at the time how fortunate I was and what a gift I’d been given. Thank you for this part of my story! Help me to draw from it even now as I continue my life. Show me the people I might thank who were involved in this graced time. And if there is any way I can continue this grace today [for instance, a talent or activity you can return to], guide me as I revive this gift. May the memory of this open my eyes to today’s gifts.
- I still don’t understand how or why God was present to me back then. I wish I had been more aware of it, but I know that you understand my process of growth and understanding. Thank you for accepting me back then for who I was, with what I was aware of. Help me now to accept who I was and where I was in my development. I look back and blame myself for not being more mature, but I was simply developing as you designed me to grow and learn.
- Jesus, please tell me what you think about all this. Help me see my life—my past—as you see it.
Now, write about this part of your history again, only revised in light of your conversation with Jesus.
End with thanksgiving for the gifts and graces you have received already—and for God’s continuing generosity.
Photo by PIXNIO.
Thank you Vinita.
There’s so much to think about writing my past memory from childhood and up to now that I’m 67. But I can’t graspe the thought of how to say it. Blankly, can’t say a word. All I can see is the thousand countless blessings that I received in life that I wanted to say, even that of failures in achieving à goal. I mean, in everything that I got, I count it as a blessing for my greater end, andcceptance is all that matters to me now àfter humbly surrendering my all, and my nothingness to Him. Forgetfulness is the word. I hope i’m not lost. God bless you Vinita.
Another amazing blog from Vinita. All you have shared in this article are useful that I can’t wait to apply these in real life.
Thank you Vinita for this beautiful exercise. Many will benefit from it for one’s own healing and regaining strength for moving on in life.
Thanks for the prompt and comprehensive response Vinita. I’ll give it a go !
I really enjoy Kevin O’Brien’s “Ignation Adventure” book and try to keep ‘re-reading’
Thanks for your question, Paul. You can approach this in it least two ways. 1) Give yourself a times limit, such as one prayer period (half an hour? longer?) for each stage, or one week of prayer periods for each stage. This will keep your work moving and prevent your getting bogged down with a a particular memory or event. 2) Give each stage as long as it needs. Write until you don’t feel that there’s much more to say. And if you get “stuck” on a specific memory or event, that might be a signal that you need to face it and work with it in prayer–whether it’s a pleasant or disturbing memory/event.
As a spiritual director, I would pay attention to which method seemed to be bearing more fruit for the person using it. Perhaps his prayer is more beneficial right now when he moves quickly over the stages, grabbing highlights/lowlights and gaining a panoramic view of his life. Perhaps she needs to linger with some memories of her college years because so much was happening then and she still needs to process it.
So, experiment! Pay attention to what leads to greater wisdom, progress, and peace. Hope this is helpful. Thanks for joining us online.
As a guide…how long do you recommend for each ‘life stage’ ?
Despite being the wrong side of 70, my memory, thank God, remains in tact.
I have never attempted to do a journal / written piece, but feel driven to try.
Not sure why, but St Joseph is featuring strongly with me recently !
God bless and thanks for your inspirations.