Each time I facilitate a spiritual journaling workshop for women, it is different. Some women repeat the workshop, but there are always new folks coming in so that the group dynamic is never the same. There have been as few as two and as many as 14.
Recently we had a group of 8 – a good number that allows for each woman to participate and share if she so chooses. My friend Amy, who will be ordained soon, joined us. Ahead of time, I gave her the speech about how each session is different, how God picks who will come (this reminder was as much for my benefit).
Sometimes the women strike me as fairly open and willing to be vulnerable. As I share some suggestions about different ways to journal, different ways to begin (i.e. writing a letter to God or copying a favorite piece of scripture or poetry and then responding to it), they are eager and share their own stories of what has been helpful to them. We speak about how often as women, and especially as women who are in crisis or times of transition, we often feel invisible. We often feel we have no voice, that no one is really listening to our hearts. Sometimes we deduce that we are not valuable or worthy of being heard. I tell them journaling creates a space where we practice listening to ourselves, where we allow ourselves to be heard.
This particular afternoon was not an easy workshop for me. I sensed that a number of the women had a wall up, were not in the mood to be forthcoming. Only two in the group had attended a previous session; I could sense that I was being checked out and evaluated. When we were more than halfway through, one of the new women spoke up; a number of the woman watched her closely. “You haven’t said it yet,” she began. “The name Jesus.” I told the women a little of my background, then explained that the workshop was open to all, regardless of their faith or religious affiliation. I spoke of journaling as a way to connect with our deepest selves and, if we do that honestly, we can connect with the divine, with the holy in ourselves as part of God’s magnificent creation.
These kinds of interactions often frustrate me. I want these women to receive what is offered. Ay-ay-yay-yay; I-I-I-I. I remind myself that there is always at least one who is there for an immediate reason or need (even if it is just me entering a process of ego deflation and surrender).
At the end of our session, when the ladies gathered their new notebooks, muttered their “thank you’s” and filed out, one stayed behind. “What do you ladies know about grieving the Holy Spirit,” she asked. This was not simply an inquiry to satisfy curiosity about an interesting topic. When I asked where the question was coming from, she immediately began to weep. She was afraid that she had done “the unforgiveable.”
I told her that I have no expertise on “grieving the Holy Spirit” but that in my experience, people who worry a great deal about this question need not do so. God is only grieved by our fear that “we have really done it this time” – that we somehow have exceeded the reach of God’s love and mercy. This is not to say we do not try to grow in our faith, but we cannot escape our humanity. Time and again, we must offer all that we are and all that we have — ourselves, our souls and bodies (warts and all) — to the One who loves us.
We prayed with our friend, who wept deeply at the possibility that she had grieved God. We thanked God for her, for her tender heart and her desire to please God. We thanked God for her question and her willingness to voice it in the context of community, where there is strength in numbers. Where together we can receive the goodness of God that often seems too overwhelming or simply impossible when we are left alone to our own devices.