In Memphis, dogwood and azalea blossoms paint swaths of color on the stark templates of their bare branches. The city and surrounding neighborhoods flaunt white, flame red, and fuchsia flowers with an almost eerie, unseasonal fervor. Although the weather seems like Easter Week, Lent is not even at its halfway point. For once I’m glad; I am not quite ready for the rest of the story. Although Advent is my favorite season of the Church year, Lent this year has had some unexpected and nourishing surprises.
A Way Other Than Our Own: Devotions for Lent by Walter Brueggemann offers me short but challenging daily reading. Each devotion includes a Scripture verse, a reflection, and a prayer. These devotions have lifted me from a spiritual and skeptical funk I’ve been wallowing in for months. The weird weather in Memphis (and maybe everywhere) is a backdrop against which Brueggemann’s words reiterate the radical hope and alternative way of the Gospel in the face of a chaotic and unsettling world. I’m using the cross template I posted on February 15 and extracting a word from the daily reading to encourage me throughout the day.
An unexpected ritual has been a rereading of the book of Genesis. I confess I dislike reading dense pages of uninterrupted text in the Bible. I like to read small bits and bites or hear the words read aloud. But for some reason I opened my newish, unused wide-margin Bible and started to read from the beginning. I read two pages and then “illuminated” the text on the right-hand page with images and doodles. Then I read another pair of pages and did the same thing. The drawing/doodling helped me to stay with the text and rethink its content while I was drawing. Illuminated sacred texts have been around since as early as the 400’s. I shutter to even use the word “illuminate” in reference to my puny drawings. Historically, the illuminations were exquisite works of art often highlighted with real gold.
In the past five years, the idea of illustrating a personal Bible has become popular. The Illustrated Faith/Bible Journaling Community on Facebook numbers about 38K. My friend Connie Denninger, a big Praying in Color proponent, has a nice blog called Vintage Grace on which she shares her experiences of Bible journaling, visual faith, and praying in color.
Here are a few samples of my Genesis pages. I decided not to include words although many Bible journalers do. My amateurish attempts at representation should set you free to use colored pencils and markers in your Bible. I’m happiest when I’m just making abstract marks and designs to catch the spirit of the words. Although what I’m doing does not deserve the word “illuminate,” I will use it anyway. Illuminate means to cast light on or to enlighten. Drawing in the margins keeps me in the chair immersed in the text. The text then has a chance to spread its light and reveal things I have never seen before. Will I read and doodle my way through the entire Bible? I doubt it. But for now, I’m enjoying the immersion in the words, the story, the color, and the light—two pages at a time.