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.
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.
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!