Joe Sarnicola knows a lot of people who pray. Sarnicola, a member of St. Mary Parish in Auburn, also knows many people who read prayers and meditations in such daily devotionals as Daily Guideposts and The Word Among Us. As much as people enjoy reading these prayers and devotionals, however, the idea of writing their own rarely occurs to them, he said.
That’s where Sarnicola hopes to come into the picture. He is in the process of developing a curriculum for a course or workshop designed to help people learn to write personal devotions, psalms and prayers.
"Maybe if these kinds of meditations have been important to you, I can actually take some of the mystery out of it," Sarnicola said of devotional writing. "For people who don’t write, many times they think it’s magic or there’s not a technique involved."
Sarnicola had planned to hold a workshop on writing personal devotions in mid-November, but the event was postponed.
A writer by trade, Sarnicola pens the monthly "Kids’ Chronicle" feature for the Catholic Courier and has written for the Auburn Citizen newspaper for about 12 years.
"The past four years or so I’ve specifically been covering church news and religious events. I’m glad that I’m able to use my talents to highlight what people in our area are doing in their Christian walk," he said.
Sarnicola also has taught writing courses through the Cayuga County Board of Cooperative Educational Services and written children’s stories and reflections for a Christian publishing company.
"I consider it my humble ministry," he said.
The daily-devotional publications have a broad audience, said Sarnicola, who includes himself among that number. He likes to study the work of fellow authors and examine the ways the authors approached various topics. He also enjoys the devotionals’ content, he added.
"It’s always good to see how other people have dealt with the things you’re going through. I like to see what Bible verses helped other people," he said.
Sarnicola said he believes there’s a number of people in the Diocese of Rochester who would enjoy writing personal devotions if they only knew how to begin. Such devotions, he said, are usually based on a specific Bible passage or a particular theme, such as prayer, faith or healing.
"Usually there’s a Bible verse that opens or closes it. It usually closes with a brief prayer," he explained.
The bulk of the devotion usually examines the passage and how it relates to daily life or something the author currently is going through that others may be able to identify with. The most effective devotionals usually cover a topic that will appeal to a lot of people, he said, yet at the same time still are very personal.
"It’s mostly trying to help people express their own feelings," Sarnicola said.
Prayer is another good way for people to express their feelings, he added. Many people either don’t realize they’re capable of writing their own prayers, or are overwhelmed by the idea and don’t know where to start. Narrowing down a focus to one specific type of prayer — such as adoration or thanksgiving, for example — is a good way to begin, Sarnicola noted.
The biblical psalms are a great place to turn for inspiration, said Sarnicola, who will include a study of the psalms in his curriculum. Many people identify the psalms with prayer, and they provide good examples of different types of prayer and their various structural elements.
Although the Bible will be a big part of his curriculum, the course is not meant to be an in-depth Bible study. Rather, Sarnicola believes that by studying the Bible, his students will gain a better understanding of the messages its authors were trying to relay. By then studying the techniques the biblical authors employed to do this, students will learn how to more effectively express their own thoughts and ideas.
"This is for the everyday Christian who just wants to understand the Bible better and maybe write their own prayers," he said of the course he is creating.
Sarnicola is not yet sure exactly what form his future course will take. He may offer a workshop or series of classes at a parish, or he may put together a correspondence course. He’s also considered offering his course as a parish fundraiser. In this scenario, he could lead prayer- and devotional-writing workshops at particular parishes. Workshop participants then could write their own works, compile a calendar or booklet, and sell the finished product, with proceeds benefitting the church.
"I’m playing with a different way to market this," Sarnicola said. "I really believe in this course. It’s just a matter of finding the right niche. I know that there is an interest out there."
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about the devotion-writing course, contact Joe Sarnicola at email@example.com.