Catholic Bible Journaling: Why You Won’t See Me Doing It

There’s a new trend catching on called Bible journaling. You can search it to pull up some images (#catholicbiblejournal has some good examples), but in a nutshell it’s a way people are praying with Scripture. Essentially, it’s doodles and artwork on the pages of Scripture (with some people making really beautiful creations of art I might add).

The goal or purpose is for those who pray or meditate best by expressing their thoughts through some type of artistic journaling. And rather than having a separate book or sheet, they take the liberty to do it on the pages of Scripture right where their inspiration lies.

In all honesty, I totally get the sentiment behind it. I’m a doodler and journaler at heart. My college notebooks were filled with my thoughts and scribles in the margins and almost every single book I read is highlighted and marked up in some way as I jot down my thoughts as I pray and learn. I love sketching things here and there and being artistic with my own personal stuff.

But when it comes to actually picking up Sacred Scripture and putting my artwork and doodles on the page, I just can’t imagine doing it like what I’m seeing others do.

Why? There’s nothing wrong with writing on the pages of Scripture. In fact, every theologian I’ve ever taken a class with or serious catechetical professional I’ve met or worked with has their bible looking even more marked up than mine.

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To me, this feels different than the full on art work covering entire pages of Scripture.  And why you won’t see me doing bible journaling.

Here are my personal reasons fleshed out a bit.

#1: Scripture is the Living Word of God. We know that the words on the pages of a bible are more than just words. They are the Word of God, living and active (Hebrews 4:12). The words on the pages have the power to cut to the heart of the sinner, to bring life to the hopeless, to convert our hearts, to bring us into intimacy with Christ, to hand on the story of man’s salvation. They are the exact words, no more or less, that the Holy Spirit Himself wanted for humanity.

They are literally God’s self revelation to all of humanity telling us our own story of darkness to light. To me, this is weighty. I want the way I treat these words on the page to speak the truth I believe about them. So when I study with Scriptures, I find highlighting important passages that relate to dogma vital. Scribbling notes about where the Old Testament foreshadows the New Testament line the pages of my own bible. Even a personal inspiring memory would seem appropriate as I meditate on the Word of God and jot it down next to the verse. But to me, covering entire pages and words of the actual text in my own work seems to downplay what I’m actually reading. My own meditations and thoughts, drawings and art, don’t have the power to give life. But the words I would be covering do. I don’t take that lightly in how I treat the pages of my bible.

 

#2: We are to venerate the Scriptures as we venerate the Body of Christ. This isn’t hyperbole. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) states it in paragraph 21: “the Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord.” To me, this means that I treat the bible a heck of a lot differently than any other book on my shelf. Just as I act differently in front of the tabernacle than I would at a grocery store line.

There is a divine reality here that calls us to respond accordingly and with utmost reverence. I understand the desire of artistic souls to pour out their art on the pages giving them the inspiration and life. But I sense a misdirection of what is given when the pages of Scripture become the canvas of our creation rather than letting our souls be the canvas of God’s work as we soak up His Word. I’m not saying those that do this aren’t allowing God to do that – and I’m in no way judging those who pray in this way.

But I still can’t help but hesitate myself at the practice. In our home, we try to treat the bible in such a way that it is obvious to the children the book is sacred and set apart. If it’s dropped, we pick it up and kiss it. We keep it on a top shelf, next to a crucifix and near other spiritual works, away from ordinary books. I can’t help but feel a lack of sacredness in the form of Bible journaling that covers entire pages in artwork and doodles.

 

#3: It distracts. This is one of my absolute favorite lines in Dei Verbum:

For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life (21).

The Father! Meeting His children! With LOVE! Speaking to us! Ahhhh… it is truly the greatest love story ever told. God is not distant. He is near and close and His Word is for us.

It’s like this to me: when my husband and I were dating, he wrote me the most beautiful love letter ever that I still have to this day. It was seriously amazing – there was so much truth and love poured out into the words and how he put it together on the pages and it changed me forever. (There was even a little dried flower with it! So sweet!) That letter is something so dear to me because it speaks of his exclusive and deep love for me. I wouldn’t in a thousand years think it would be better if I sprawled my inspirations on that letter even though I had plenty to say of it in my own private journal. It just wouldn’t be appropriate. It would distract from the love already there, meant for me to soak up and receive.

In a lot of ways, this is how I view bible journaling. Somewhere along the way, I feel like the preciousness of the Lover sending His life giving Word into our hearts has been mistaken for a chance to express ourselves and the feelings we get while reading that Word.

And I can’t help but wonder if we are missing the depth of the words if we are okay covering them up with our own art.

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To wrap it up, I don’t think this is a moral dilemma. But I think it’s okay to pause and question sometimes and see where the heart is. For me, I’ve decided my heart is in leaving the words of Scripture in tact, so they are always available and easy to read and devour at any time.

I realize some people do their journaling differently and will only draw in the margins – I think I like that more since it doesn’t cover the pages. I’m still not sure if I’d get into it, but it sounds a lot better than the ones I’ve seen with full black words sprawled on the pages covering the actual text of Scripture.

So that’s just me and my reasons. I’d love to hear your thoughts and if you’ve done this before or your reasons for avoiding it. Head to the comments below and fill me in!

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21 comments

  1. I get what you’re saying, I don’t doodle in my Bible either (even though I majored in art and love doodling), but what about illuminated manuscripts?

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    1. Angie @ Yellow Pelican September 10, 2016, 7:07 am

      Illuminated manuscripts don’t cover the actual text and they are meant to be a flourish and work of art with the texts. That’s totally different in my opinion – an ancient way to flourish texts and enhance the words on the page vs highlighting over top of the words of Scripture. Know what I mean? What do you think?

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      1. Really thought-provoking post, thank you! But I wanted to clarify: illuminations (in ancient or contemporary biblical manuscripts) are not illustrations. The word “illuminated” is deliberate: the belief was that the embellishment of the words themselves or the inclusion of artistic elements within the calligraphied text would illuminate the reader’s wisdom and deepen their prayerful meditation on the written texts as the Word of God. I have had the privilege of learning from a number of monks who’ve devoted their lives to the study of illuminated manuscripts, and they are always very careful to teach about the difference between illumination and illustration. It’s an interesting angle to bring into the question of Bible journaling today, too!

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        1. Angie @ Yellow Pelican September 13, 2016, 9:08 am

          Yes, thank you for clarifying that a bit more. I definitely made a generalization that wasn’t clear! There is definitely a difference between a simple illustration and the deeper prayer of illuminations. I didn’t mean to downplay that at all!

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  2. I agree with you – in the margins, in blank spots at the beginning or end of books, etc, seems fine, but ON TOP OF the actual words.

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  3. This is so well written and thoughtful. I really love how you explained your thoughts. You expressed what I’ve been feeling but definitely shared it more fully. Thank you. 🙂

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    1. Angie @ Yellow Pelican September 10, 2016, 7:01 am

      Thanks for sharing friend! It’s definitely been on my heart a while – rereading DV really helped make my thoughts clear

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  4. I doodle in the margins, because that’s how I take notes (I’ve done notes that way since college). But full on artistic works…I’ve thought about it, but you’ve got some excellent points here.

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  5. I have a couple of Journaling Bibles (just wish they were Catholic). I don’t go over the actual words. To me, I kind of think of it as an illuminated manuscript and something that will become a family heirloom — or at least in time a unique antique once I am gone. I feel it will speak to future generations as well as giving me a creative outlet now. I think of most of my art in my Bible in relation to what someone 100 years from now might think of it.

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    1. Angie @ Yellow Pelican September 10, 2016, 1:12 pm

      Yes! A lot of people are bringing that up – I mention at the end I feel on the margins is ok. It’s the ones I’ve seen the are on the actual words of Scripture that I don’t agree with. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. I love this post and how much thought you put into it! I’ll do a friendly counter to it with the history behind it! 😘 The premise is nearly as old as the bible! Love me some monastic hand transcribed bible art! Even the earliest bibles have this so it will be so fun to compile and write! I can’t attach a picture of the ancient doodles, but they are easy to find! It makes sense that modern catholics would not be comfortable with it as it is not something we are accustomed to as we have very efficient printing presses!

    Link to ancient bible journaling: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/Meister_des_Maréchal_de_Boucicaut_001.jpg

    Reply
    1. Angie @ Yellow Pelican September 10, 2016, 1:11 pm

      Thanks for commenting! Yes this is called illuminated manuscripts. Definitely a beautiful art form – but you’ll notice it doesn’t cover the text which is what my post is really about. I’m not anti-art at all just in proper place within Scripture 🙂

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  7. I think I would agree with you. I didn’t know this was a thing, but to me it screams of our inability to just sit and be. Just sit and be with God. We don’t need to color, draw, or doodle. Just read and contemplate. I think you get at this in the distract part.

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    1. Angie @ Yellow Pelican September 13, 2016, 9:02 am

      Amy, I love that thought! And totally agree – even if there isn’t anything implicitly wrong, I sense a lack of that ability as you mentioned. To let God be the center of the prayer, and not our own thoughts.

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  8. Thanks for this. It helped me define what I have issues with about the Protestant – now Catholic approaches to bible journaling. I am totally on board with highlighters of all colors, lines, circles, post its. My bible is coated with notes & colors: but all those notes and colors make it look like a college text book rather than a print off Etsy. I use His Words for study not art. I actually have a separate art prayer journal that I do that in. I think it has it’s place, just not within the bindings of Scripture.

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  9. Hi Angie, thanks for posting this! While I can’t say I completely agree with you on everything, I think you make some important points about respect and relationship with God, and I’m glad to hear you’ve put thought into it. I am a Catholic and while I haven’t done any Bible art journaling (yet), it’s definitely something I would love to do. Like you though, I can’t imagine covering up the words. Primarily it’s because I would want me and my art to be in conversation with the Word, and it’s tough when you can’t see half the conversation! That said, we are made in the image of God – and since God is the Creator of a beautiful universe, it makes sense that we may feel the urge to create beautiful things too, even though our creations are nothing next to God’s.

    So there are two key reasons I want to get into Bible art journaling. One is that when you do artwork (intentional artwork – not just haphazardly slapping paint on), it slows you way down and gives you something to focus on. I remember a few years ago, I painted a couple of Bible verses onto a canvas, which took probably half an hour for about four lines of text. It is truly amazing how much more you notice and think about when you do this – really similar to lectio divina. Often we (or I, anyway!) have a tendency to rush through or only half pay attention to Scripture reading, and doing the artwork was like walking along a path smelling the roses instead of driving by at highway speeds. It was super helpful spiritually.

    Second, I feel that it is important to get the Catholic voice out there in this forum, especially in artwork which has a better chance of speaking for itself. With art we can make connections between passages or with liturgical elements that would be tough to articulate in words, and it is a way to integrate Tradition with Scripture – a powerful combination that is almost completely lacking in Protestant Bible journaling. There are a lot of people who think of the Catholic Church as a dusty and impersonal Medieval machine full of brainwashed people, and I think that through beautiful, conscious art – even (and especially) in Bibles – it is a way to allow the light from our Church’s Tradition to shine into the world. So in this sense it covers both bases for me: building a relationship with God both through His Word and through my whole person (mind, soul AND body), and also answering the call to evangelize. God bless!

    Reply
    1. Angie @ Yellow Pelican September 20, 2016, 8:08 pm

      Thanks for sharing! I’m totally with you on God revealing through beauty and art (have you read the Evidential Power of Beauty by Thomas Dubay? So good!)

      My perspective comes not from being anti-art but more from the reverence needed as we approach the Word of God. Many people view this differently and I love the open conversation!

      My view comes from prayerful reading of Dei Verbum and wanting to keep the words sacred and easy to read. I’m an artsy person, so I totally agree with a lot of the other parts you’re saying!

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

      Reply
  10. So what I settled on was an Interleaved Bible with blank pages alternating with the pages that have text. It is separate from the Bible I use when I meditate silently and receptively on Scripture. But it’s a place where some of the fruit of my quiet time appears. I’ve always loved illuminated manuscripts and my intention is to honor Jesus with my drawings (on the blank pages). I accompany the drawings with a verse or phrase from the text on the facing page. The most worthy ornament for the Word of God is the Word itself, writ large, writ new. Saint John Paul II has some wonderful things to say about the Bible as a kind of sourcebook of creative inspiration in his Letter to Artists. Of course, it is much more than that, but that too, that too.

    I also am not comfortable with drawing or even really writing/underlining directly on the printed text. But I love making these “illuminations”! My inner child and my feminine soul rejoice 🙂

    Glad to have found your blog and I will be reading more.

    Reply
    1. Angie @ Yellow Pelican May 15, 2017, 10:20 am

      This is beautiful – thank you for sharing how you pray while keeping the text of Scripture in tact and legible!

      Reply

What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear from you!