Diaries

Now, here’s a thing.   Having somewhat over-extended myself trying to set out a Christian perspective on disasters these last few weeks, I was determined to return to something lighter and less disturbing for a week or two.

So, what to write about? Well, the dog ate my Toblerone yesterday, but that didn’t really feel like the thing to cover (not withstanding that the ‘foreign’ woman said to Jesus  “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”)  (Mark 7).

Liverpool’s goalkeeper just made 4 mistakes in two minutes, costing two goals, how about that?  Or something controversial, perhaps? (Or perhaps not!)

This week I was given a book of great diaries (‘The world’s most remarkable diaries, journals, notebooks and letters’).  Keeping a diary or journal obviously goes back a long way. The oldest one seems to be that of Merer, a supervisor on the building of the great pyramid at Giza, that was written about 2600 BC. It was only discovered in 2013 and the extracts I read (translated, not in ancient Egyptian!) were quite dull – somewhat of the ‘went to work, came home, had tea’ variety). Still, it is very old. Others, of course, are far more interesting in themselves and it does make me want to read some of them.  Samuel Pepys, for example, or James Boswell.  Most people have heard of Anne Frank’s diary, but I wonder how many have read it?

A key distinction amongst diaries is whether or not they were written purely for personal effect or with an eye to publication. There has been a slew of political and showbiz diaries in recent times, most of which were written in the knowledge that they would be published.  Written into them often is a  mixture of controversy (to help them sell), self-justification and score-settling.

Is there a value for Christians in keeping a daily journal?  Many notable Christians have.

In 1656 John Beadle, an Essex minister, wrote an advice manual on how to keep a diary and explained the variety of types that were written in the seventeenth century:

‘We have our state diurnals, relating to national affairs. Tradesmen keep their shop books. Merchants their account books. Lawyers have their books of precedents. Physicians have their experiments. Some wary husbands have kept a diary of daily disbursements. Travellers a Journal of all that they have seen and hath befallen them in their way. A Christian that would be more exact hath more need and may reap much more good by such a journal as this. We are all but stewards, factors here, and must give a strict account in that great day to the high Lord of all our ways, and of all his ways towards us’.[1]

One such Christian diarist in the 18th Century was David Brainerd an earnest young man who felt called to evangelise Native Americans and died of TB before he was 30. He also suffered bouts of severe depression. His journal (not written for publication) contains passages like this:

“Saturday, Oct. 18. In my morning devotions, my soul was exceedingly melted, and bitterly mourned over my exceeding sinfulness and vileness. I never before had felt so pungent and deep a sense of the odious nature of sin, as at this time. My soul was then unusually carried forth in love to God, and had a lively sense of God’s love to me. And this love and hope, at that time, cast out fear.”[2]

I wonder how many of us could be moved to write in such a profound way?  Maybe, we should give it a try.


[1] Diaries of the Seventeenth Century’, By Dr Mark Knights, 2011-02-17 BBC website, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/civil_war_revolution/diaries_01.shtml – accessed 7 Feb 2021.

[2] ‘The life and diary of David Brainerd’, https://avidano.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/db_life-and-diary-of-david-brainerd-the.pdf Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.