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Permission to Play in Your Bible

When I was 14 I had the chance to hear Lorne Sanny teach a Bible study. Lorne Sanny was the second president of The Navigators following the death of Dawson Trotman. He held the post for thirty years and grew the ministry greatly.

I knew Lorne as my grandfather’s friend. And while I didn’t know why he was important, for the circle I grew up in, well Mr. Sanny might as well have been Billy Graham himself.

I cannot remember what Mr. Sanny talked about. It was probably on growing in the Word, knowing God, the importance of quiet time, any of the things that marked the Navs under his tenure there. But whatever he said, I was inspired to go up and ask him about it.

I was quiet, shy, misunderstood growing up. I never quite felt comfortable in situations, felt I was not enough of what I should be (demure, gracious, social, a hostess) and too much of what I should not be (sarcastic, messy, curious, in search of equality).

When I got up to see Mr. Sanny, before I even said a word, He took my Bible which was full of notes from sermons and other slips of paper, and started to remove them. I was horrified. Those pieces were there for a reason! He told me, it’s the Bible, not a filing cabinet and I should remember the difference. I mumbled something like, “Thank you, sir.” And walked away, my question forgotten. I felt like I had done something wrong.

Growing up, the Bible was a sacred text. It was to be studied and memorized. It was to be recited and known. These 66 books were set apart by God to teach us how to be, how to live, how to navigate the world.

It was okay to underline your Bible, and perhaps write a note or two in the margin. But that was it. You could not take copious notes, do not think about coloring or drawing. Never should something extraneous like a sticker or a photo or something you’d use for scrapbooking be put in there. Do not add pages or index cards. The idea of painting over a page to express yourself on it creatively might have been enough to question one’s salvation and true understanding of our mission here on earth.

It wasn’t until my mid-20s I heard of someone doing art in their Bible. They did pictures instead of sermon notes, put in cute add-ins, and dared to cover a page in art. They saw their Bibles less as a textbook or battle guide and more as an invitation, a central conduit to conversing with the Lord.

For me, the Bible remained a stiff document. God-breathed, yes. God-inspired, for sure. It was seen as marching orders versus what it really is – a letter. It is a scrapbook in many ways of God’s story with those He created. It is the good parts and the bad, lessons learned, poems that caught His attention, stories that make Him smile. In the middle is the life of His son with highlights and moments for us to treasure. Then it is letters between friends that somehow give us an idea of how to walk this life.

It is to be revered but not in a way that closes us off to it. We are beings with a mind, a heart, a soul, and a body. And we are made to worship God with all of those things. So why, in this blessed document left behind, would we not respond back to God by putting our emotion on its pages? If God created flowers, sunsets, birds, butterflies, the beauty of ethnicities, why oh why should we not add beauty to the pages that tell His story?

Bible journaling has taken off in the last few years and gone from something only reserved for the highly creative (in my opinion) to something anyone can do. Margins have gotten bigger, pages thicker to accommodate inks and other materials being put on the pages. And in the midst of that are Bibles with hand-lettering and creative images already inserted on the pages.

NIV Beautiful Word Bible is one such example. There are wide margins on the side to play in and hand-lettered verses drawn by Lindsay Letters, Shanna Noel, Jay and Kristi Smith, and others. Even the typeface gives it a playful, inviting feel. Gone are the stuffy, small print block letters that defined the Bibles before, making them appear dull and unavailable. This Bible invites you to play! It reminds you that there is a God of creativity, joy, light, and beauty behind the story we are reading.

Image via Zondervan

I am not creative in the same way Lindsay and Shanna and Stephanie Ackerman are. I cannot look at a blank page and figure out how to use all the things that have been made to help people play in their Bibles. I had dabbled with stamps, taking a phrase or word from a verse and trying to come up with an image around it. I do not particularly like my handwriting (it’s getting worse with age). But somehow, seeing the playfulness and variety of ways the artists have expressed themselves here gives me ideas and makes it okay to try.

What if playing in our Bibles, if drawing, adding in bits and pieces of paper, taping in a page for more room, was not defacing something sacred but appreciating it? What if taking time to engage and play in and sit with the Word in a way that makes it personal and stirs something in us could be worship?

The NIV Beautiful Word Bible is perfect for first-time creatives, young children (or anyone) who want to be given permission to use their Bibles for more than just something to carry to church on Sundays, or those who want to see the beauty in the pages. It’s amazing how much a verse set apart as something visual and creative makes the entire page come more alive.

Yes, Mr. Sanny was right – our Bibles are not filing cabinets. What I didn’t know how to do at 14 was to take what I had scribbled on those notes sticking out everywhere and put them into the book I treasured. My Bible from college is full of notes and tidbits and in-depth Bible study nuggets. If you are like me and drawn to words, The Beautiful Word invites you to engage the other side of things – images, color, mess, worship. What I hope for in the Bible before me is to not allow my fear of getting it wrong or not doing it well enough stop me from engaging the playful, curious, messy, creative side I lost somewhere along the way in the search for all those words and knowledge that keep me from engaging God fully for who He is.

See a sample of the Bible here.

Cover photo via Stephanie Ackerman Instagram.

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