Wednesday, August 31, 2005

What is Spiritual Autobiography?

I've just been writing in my journal about what has been happening to me over the past few days and how I am feeling about it. I write there only for myself, although I wouldn't mind if my family read what I had written sometime in the future, possibly after I've gone. A friend of mine who was facing a possibly fatal illness once asked me to destroy her journals if she should die and I realised that I just couldn't do that. The archivist in me obviously runs very deep!

Then I sat and thought about what I might say in this blog and that felt different, more like writing an article for an audience, although I'm not sure who. It certainly feels more public and I wondered whether that made me more careful about what I write, perhaps more conscious of how I write it. After all I am drafting this post and will go back over it and correct and maybe polish it.

So how does all this relate to spiritual autobiography? The definition of this sort of writing which I've developed over the years goes something like this - An account of a person's spiritual journey written by themselves in order to be shared with others in some way at some time. This is not the same as an ordinary autobiography as, depending on our perceptions, outward events and even people may not be part of the story. Although diaries, journals etc. can contribute to spiritual autobiography they are not the same thing because they are written about the present and to write spiritual autobiography it is necessary to look back over the past and make sense of it in some way. For me the two vital elements are looking back and sharing what we find. Of course if I do eventually manage to write my spiritual autobiography, even if only in fragments, I could publish that as another blog!

I have always been very clear that everyone has a spiritual autobiography to write. The finished product does not have to be literary, it does not have to be long and it does not have to be packed with incident. It is just as valuable to share and make sense of our failures as to talk only of our successes. One of the main reasons which early writers of spiritual autobiography had for writing was to give others the encouragement which they felt they had lacked. As Alice Hayes, a Quaker writing at the beginning of the 18th century, put it "Truly I have thought that if I had met with the like Account of any that had gone through such exercise, it would have been some Help to me".

So I will go on writing my diary, reading it back as I come to the end of each volume every year or two, trying to make sense of where God is leading/nudging/pushing me, and finding ways to share it all. I'll keep you posted.


Liz Opp said...

Thanks for letting us peek into your spiritual journey a bit, Gil. ...A question arose for me as I was reading: How might you define "spiritual journey," since you use that phrase in defining "spiritual autobiography"?

Liz, The Good Raised Up

Gil Skidmore said...

Thanks Liz. Actually I try not to define too much because when people asked me these questions in my workshops it felt as though they were asking what the right way to write spiritual autobiography is and I don't think there is a right way!

Putting that aside though, for me the metaphor of a journey through life is helpful. I have often been taken to task for using the word spiritual in this context as "for Quakers the whole of life is spiritual". Although that may be the ideal I still think it helps, as it has others in the past,to concentrate on what is spiritual in our lives. And before you ask me to define spiritual I believe that each person has to do that for themselves.

Your comment reminded me of one thing about the phrase that works for me. In early 18th century English the word travel was just on the point of changing its meaning from travel=travail, as in work, childbirth etc, to travel=going from one place to another. The spelling was interchangeable and there was often a sense of both meanings, in some cases almost a pun, and for me all that is contained in the phrase spiritual journey.

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