Mental Health Week and the Tradition of Lebenslauf

Last week was Mental Health week, with much said and written about how we can support positive mental health and wellbeing during this strange time of lockdown. I set myself a personal challenge: can I link mental health and wellbeing to the Moravian tradition of writing a Lebenslauf? I like a challenge but this feels hard!

Let’s start with Mental Health Week. Among the many items I heard and read last week, much was said about the value of keeping a journal or diary. I recalled that a few years ago, when researching for work on how to support resilience in the workplace, I read much about the value of a journal.

At that time, our archivist at Fulneck told me about the letters that people living in the settlement wrote about their lives. Standing in the vestry, next to a cupboard full of such letters, we discussed the similarity between these and journal writing. She then kindly sent me an article and her response to it.

Lebenslauf translates as ‘life’s walk, journey.’ The tradition started in Herrnhut with Count Zinzendorf. He introduced the practice of a personal memoir being read on the day a person was buried. These became recognised as an autobiographical reflection on one’s life, especially the spiritual aspects. The Fulneck archivist (H. Smith) has transcribed 165 such letters, which she describes as “a unique genre which gave voice to the ‘unheard’ of the 18th/19th centuries, i.e. women, children, ordinary working people, the poor and illiterate;” although it is important to acknowledge that she recognises that this practice did not become established in the British Moravian Province.

Writing such a letter is a tradition that seems to have largely dwindled in to the past. However, last year a pastor at a Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania invited his congregation to join in a sharing of such writing. Here is a blog he wrote

He then concludes:

When asked if we, as members of the Church, are comfortable talking about our faith with others, the common response is to hesitate before answering “Yes?” (at best). Moravians have always had a wonderful gift in the Lebenslauf to help with that. I would encourage other congregations to re-embrace this tradition in whatever format they see fit in order to discover the wealth of powerful, meaningful, and life-giving stories that speak of the faith, love, and hope we strive to show each day.

So, back to my personal challenge. Mental health and wellbeing, research shows, can be supported by:

  • writing a daily or regular journal. This gives us space to reflect upon all aspects of our lives and consider our responses to what we are experiencing;
  • identifying what we can be grateful for is a well proven technique for fostering a positive outlook and personal resilience;
  • taking care of all aspects of self – physical, mental and spiritual – is vital to our overall wellbeing.

It seems to me that writing a Lebenslauf was one way of encouraging individuals to reflect on their lives, think about those things they were grateful for and pay attention to the spiritual aspects of their life.

Is there a connection between well-being and writing a Lebenslauf?

Whatever your response to this question, I hope that you are finding ways during this strange time to support your mental health and well-being. On which note, it must be time for my daily walk.

I hope that you are all safe and well. As always, any comments on this or suggestions for a future article will be welcome.


26 May 2020