Do you find it difficult to put your thoughts into words? Perhaps you feel that when you do succeed in writing something down that you’re not really saying what you want to say. It’s a much more common experience than you might think. Even the poet T.S. Eliot found himself compelled to exclaim in frustration: ‘It is impossible to say just what I mean’. The Bible is the word of God and as Christians it is our duty to spend time studying and reflecting on the word of God, however if you are one of those people who finds it difficult to respond to God’s word in written language, that does not make you a bad Christian. Bible journaling is an activity, which gives you permission to respond to the Bible in a pictorial, rather than a linguistic way. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a professional artist, it’s not a competition and if you don’t want to, you don’t have to show your journaling to anyone. God knows what is in your heart, but do you? Journaling is a technique that may enable you to get closer to the word of God and gain a better understanding of yourself. The Bible is not an easy read, we may, at times, feel intimidated by the majesty of its language or perhaps we allow God’s word to wash over us without really engaging with spiritual truth. A pictorial response to a verse may be the process by which God speaks to you. It’s not about creating ‘great’ art, it’s not even about trying to make something ‘beautiful, it’s about making something honest and true.
Art and the Bible
For centuries, the only book in a Christian household would have been the Bible. The details of births, deaths and marriages were often recorded on the blank pages but other than that it would probably have seemed sacrilegious to the people of those times, to write or draw on the pages of a Bible. Christians, however, have been producing art, based on their faith, since at least the third century. Until the printing of the first Bible in 1455 all Bibles were transcribed
by hand and they were usually ‘illuminated’, or as we would say, illustrated. The earliest book of the gospels to have survived is the Book of Durrow, which dates from around 650, but illuminated, hand written gospels were produced for about a thousand years in Western Europe. Many famous artists have been drawn to the Bible as a source of inspiration. In 1866, Gustave Doré published his illustrated version of the Bible, which contained 241engravings, and was a profound influence on a generation of Christians. Later, artists such as Marc Chagall and Salvador Dali would also produce illustrated editions of the Bible. It was only as editions of the Bible became cheaper that ‘ordinary people’ could afford a personal Bible in which they could record their responses to the word of God in notes and images. We do, however, have the example of a beautiful hand embroidered Bible cover made by a 12 year old girl from Philadelphia in 1753, which suggests that some form of Bible journaling may have been going on for a lot longer than we imagine.
How to get started
First of all, let’s be clear about why you are doing this. If it’s because you want to create a beautiful illustrated Bible, which you can show to all your friends so they can say, ‘Oh wow that’s so amazing, you’re so talented’, then you are way off target. The purpose of Bible journaling is not to feed your vanity, it’s to help you get closer to God, to help you internalize truths and document your spiritual journey. You’re going to need a Bible, well you’ve got one, of course you have,
but is this the Bible you want to use for your journaling. Bibles come in all sizes and obviously, for journaling purposes, the bigger the better. Bibles also tend to be printed on very thin paper, so if you’re going to use a Bible with thin paper you’re probably going to need to prepare the pages with gesso to stop your inks from bleeding through, you can also slip a piece of paper underneath, which will help. Whatever media you decide to use, you should always test them out on a back page to see whether there are going to be any problems. When you start out you will make mistakes, don’t worry, God will not be angry that you’ve ‘messed up his book’. This activity is about the quality of your conversation with God, not about perfectly executed artwork. You may want to buy a Bible that has been specially designed for journaling, it will make things easier but again, it’s all about the quality of your engagement with the word of God, not about the artwork. There is of course nothing wrong with enjoying what you are doing. Faith is joy, not drudgery. You’ve got your Bible, you’ve got your artist’s materials and they may consist simply of a couple of pencils, that’s fine; now the question is: where do you start? I like to just open my Bible at random and let God guide me. Try it, I guarantee that God will guide you to a verse that speaks directly to your personal needs. Perhaps you’re following a course of Bible study, journaling is a great way to meditate on the passage that you’ve been looking at. Maybe you heard something in a sermon or an inspirational song. There are no right or wrong ways to go about journaling. Open your heart and God will guide you.