A few months ago, I was sitting down to write in my journal for a bit. This is a practice I regularly return to when I need to get my thoughts in order or my inner narratives down in front of me. It helps me make sense of what I’m currently experiencing.
But, as happens, I got distracted scrolling through Instagram instead. Five, ten, maybe fifteen minutes went by and just as I was starting to realize I had been distracted, appearing in front of me was an invitation back into my practice:
Spirit of God, we are grateful for this new
day, this new moment, this new breath.
We pray that you gently open your eyes to
the Beauty of your Presence.
The Beauty of this candle flame.
The Beauty of this cup of tea.
The Beauty of our breath and heartbeat.
The Beauty of our written and unwritten words.
Open our eyes to see the Beauty in
The Beauty in those who feel familiar.
The Beauty in those who seem different.
Open our eyes to the Beauty of You,
The author of the account, Melissa, and I recently had a conversation about this prayer and what journaling has meant in her life.
Andrew: This prayer has found such a wonderful home in my heart – the way you speak of Beauty and Presence connects so deeply with my experience of the Divine. Has this always been your experience of God or how has your spirituality shifted and morphed over time?
Melissa: I am so glad that it resonated with you. Yes, I’ve come to enjoy “Beauty” as a synonym for God.
For a long time, my faith looked like homework. My experience of God was about learning and knowing and performing. Having the right answers felt really important.
My Spiritual Direction training and journey led me into the wonderful world of “asking deep questions”… and allowing silence to linger. I’ve become surprisingly comfortable with not having the right answers. Instead, I delight in curiosity, exploration, wondering, and marveling. Sometimes I feel like our questions are more honest than our answers. I’m still pondering that.
Andrew: That’s one of the most foundational understandings in many community development circles: questions are more important than answers. It’s through questions that we make sense of the world. I love that.
You facilitate a space called Atelier Grace – an “online journaling café and yoga studio” – what exactly is an online journaling cafe and yoga studio and what in your story brought you to offer this kind of unique and beautiful space?
Melissa: I often say that all I want to do is journal, do yoga, and sip tea…and invite others to join me! In my imagination, Atelier Grace is a cute little French café where we are all gathered together to quietly journal, sip tea, and have conversations about Beauty.
As a Spiritual Director, Yoga Instructor, and Retreat Leader, I love creating and holding beautiful, peaceful spaces for people. At the start of the pandemic, when the world was experiencing so much chaos and stress, I felt an overwhelming desire to invite others into the peacefulness that I know so well.
I launched Atelier Grace in the spring of 2020. It has grown and evolved into what it is today: an online Journaling Café and Yoga Studio. We enjoy a simple rhythm of a weekly Journaling Ritual, journal prompts, and a Gentle Yoga practice.
The word Atelier is French for an “artist’s studio”…a place where Beauty is uncovered and brought to life. The slow, gentle work that we do in Atelier Grace is transforming us to see the Beauty in ourselves and in the world around us…and I believe that “Beauty will save the world.”
Andrew: How did you get into this? I know I’ve found myself deeply drawn to your emphasis on journaling as a spiritual practice. There have been so many times when this tool has been resonant for me…and also times when not so much. When did you first encounter journaling and when did it become such a vibrant practice for you?
Melissa: Several years ago, my dad bought me my first fountain pen. There was something so wonderful about using a lovely instrument that really fueled my journaling.
When I select a beautiful bottle of ink and fill the pen cartridge, I imagine that the ink is actually liquid prayers, unformed and wordless. It feels magical. When I put pen to paper, the prayers flow out effortlessly.
I love details. I love beauty. I love my pens, I love my glass bottles of ink, I love my notebooks made with silky smooth Japanese paper. I love the ritual of journaling. Because of this, the practice of journaling feels like a delightful treat and I can’t get enough!
My advice to people who are interested in journaling is this: I believe that you will find more enjoyment if you treat journaling with a little reverence. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive…but I invite you to choose elements that you enjoy. Maybe even build a whole ritual around it: light a candle, fix some tea, turn on some music. If you create an enjoyable experience, it will call to you and invite you to return again and again.
Andrew: That’s so beautiful! And that’s the power of an embodied practice, isn’t it? The truth of it gets into your bones – it calls to you and invites you to return. I talk with a lot of people about finding an embodied spirituality that engages more than just our brains – what does embodied spirituality mean to you?
Melissa: I believe that there is so much more happening inside of us – ways that God is communicating with us – than we can comprehend. There are NO words. There’s no translation. There are times when you feel like crying for no apparent reason, or your heart is racing, or maybe your body just feels really good…perhaps the Spirit is communicating with us on a level that the “thinking” part of our brains just can’t understand.
I wonder, what if I could use my body to engage in a two-way conversation with God? Leaving the thinking out of it, I often enjoy allowing my body to delight and rest in God’s presence through yoga, bathing, walking, being in nature, and napping. A lot of this goes back to that new comfort I am finding in “not having all the answers”… I allow my mind to rest and let my body and spirit feel.
Andrew: Thank you so, so much for chatting and sharing a bit of your story with us. If someone wants to support you and your work – maybe even try journaling themselves – where can they find you?