"God gave you this Bible to write whatever you want in it."
My church mentor told me this nearly a decade ago during one of our first one-on-one meetings for catechism. I remember sitting at a table with her where both of our Bibles laid. Mine, essentially new, save for a piece of parchment glued to the inside cover signifying it was a gift to me from my church. Hers, worn out and creased – with writing all over it.
She opened up her Bible and showed me all the places where she'd written notes, underlined verses, and highlighted things. My first thought was that this couldn't be right: it seemed blasphemous to literally mark up something so holy. I thought about how in Judaism, their holy book (the Torah) is so revered that they literally cannot touch it. Yet I, a Christian, am being invited to write and draw in my Bible?
Yet, there was something so intriguing about her pages filled with these notes. Seeing her handwriting alongside the text made me want to read the page, to see not only what God has to say through the word but what my mentor thought about it in her notes. During that meeting, I wrote my first note in my Bible: the word "doctor" on the title page for the Gospel of Luke, because I wanted to remember that Luke was a doctor.
And that set off a reaction that began slowly, burst into full bloom, and is still going strong, all these years later.
I initially began by underlining verses I knew, then by underlining verses I stumbled upon that spoke to me. That developed into notes written during Sunday school, based upon a church sermon, from Christian devotionals, and eventually my own thoughts. I used to underline and make notes only every once in a while, but now it's rare I read my Bible without underlining something. I love making these markings for future me to reflect on and learn from.
Back when I started doing this, Bible journaling was not a popular thing, but in recent years, it has become an artsy trend. Spreads of beautiful calligraphy written in Bibles are everywhere on Pinterest, usually accompanied by little sketches relating to the verse.
Other people write a little in their Bibles and put their notes in a separate notebook or, like me, they underline verses and jot things in the margins of their Bible, like this:
So, why do I say that Bible journaling has been one of the best ways my faith has developed?
It goes back to Hebrews 4:12:
"for the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."
A Bible without notes is still a living source of God's teachings for a Christian, but a Bible with notes becomes personal. Everything underlined and noted with circles, stars, and arrows in my Bible is a tangible representation of my faith, from when I wrote "doctor" in Luke to the note I wrote just this morning. I love finding older notes and reflecting on how my faith has changed so much since then.
A Bible without that personal touch seems too boring and lifeless to me now. I honestly believe that I would not get much out of my Bible reading if I had followed that instinct of blasphemy years ago and never written a thing. It has happened many times that I see a verse elsewhere and I recognize it because I know for a fact it is underlined in my Bible. I have read a verse and been confused as to what it meant only to see my note next to it that brings the verse into clarity. I've stumbled upon older notes that I am so glad I wrote down because I completely would've forgotten about it otherwise. I've read some notes that don't mean much to me in the moment, only to read them again a few weeks later and find they're exactly what I needed to hear.
For those who have a crisp, orderly, perfect Bible but are intrigued by the idea of Bible journaling: flip to your favorite verse, take a pencil, and underline it. Underline another verse tomorrow. If there's a cool idea in your devotional that correlates to a verse, write that near the verse so you'll never forget it. Watch your Bible become filled with your touch over time.
For those who have a crisp, orderly, perfect Bible and think that the practice of Bible journaling is blasphemous, wrong, a sin, and those who do it are disappointing God, remember: we do not worship the Bible, we worship God. The Bible is a manual for Christians on how to live in faith, but God is the purpose of it all. And if Bible journaling is a way that your brother/sister in Christ grows in their faith, who are you to stop them?
"Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart."