Some of the art journals Sheila Cook has made. She describes her creative time as "conversations with Spirit." (Courtesy photo)

Topics: September 2022, Spirituality | Opinion

This spiritual practice both comforts me and takes me outside my comfort zone

Journal making 'teaches me to be gentle with myself'


Gilakas’la! Tansi? How are you? I tend to the Spirit and my spirituality with daily creative art sessions. As a student in seminary at the Vancouver School of Theology who is discerning the priesthood in the Indigenous Anglican Church of Canada, I’ve learned my solace comes from my ability to stay embodied, curious and open to strong feelings. I find this space in the practice of creative art journalling and journal making. 

My creative sessions allow me to stay focused and live outside my comfort zone. Gluing myself to the page or cutting something crooked can send me into a sensory overload tizzy. Journal making, over and over again, teaches me to be gentle with myself as I find better ways to do different techniques. In this time, my breathing becomes steady, my stress eases and I become aware. I nurture myself with hydration and music, and I create… a mess. A beautiful mess. 

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I might spend an afternoon dying paper with coffee and eco-dyes, sewing snippet rolls of collage to be added to pages or making cards and tags to tuck into the journals. I’ll make master boards of collage to tear apart for a page spread. My journals are created with any type of paper products — copy paper, music sheets, magazines, flyers, bags and cards. Signatures of pages are then bound onto various styles of homemade book covers. Many of the art supplies I have were my late mom’s, so I also get to be with her each time I practise.

I have started to make journals for my friends. I had no idea how much joy this would bring. To think of them as I gather supplies — the colours they like, the symbols, quotes and pages that call them to mind — allows me to honour the love they have given me throughout my life.

Journal making has led me to find artists who make prayer journals. There is so much joy in my academic studies, but they can be intense, and sometimes spirituality is squeezed out of the institutional experience altogether. My downtime has to match the intensity of discernment and refill my cup so I can be present, bounce back from setbacks, and honour the healing in public this journey requires. My creative time helps me work out what I need to on the page. As Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.” This ongoing transformation is necessary to hear God’s will in my everyday life, and my creative practice helps me along that way. 

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In a journal entry, I may start out lamenting, questioning, exclaiming or dreamily wandering through the page. I am now fully aware these are my special talks with God. St. Benedict, at the beginning of The Rule, says, “Listen [to] the ear of your heart.” Our minds are fully dependent on our hearts to discern this human walk with Creator, creation and each other. Some of my academic papers have been inspired by these journal pages, these conversations with Spirit, and I am better for it. This creative time is prayer lifted up in prayer. What I have found with all of these journals is that they usually end in an Amen.


Sheila Cook is Cree from Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, Sask. She is discerning the priesthood in the Indigenous Anglican Church and celebrates her Anglican-United identity from her childhood ecumenical parish in Port Hardy, B.C. 

This story first appeared in Broadview’s September 2022 issue with the title “An amen.”

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