My book, Writing in the Margins, began with a prayer.
After the death of Rich Gordon, his family entrusted me with his Bible. I quickly learned he was a margin writer.
For years I thought about the notes and prayers he had written into scripture. I began to wonder how this scriptural discipline he loved and was shaped by might be shared with others so they could learn from him as well.
When I started researching to discover more about margin writing, there were plenty of examples of medieval illuminated manuscripts. As I poured through images on the Internet, there were a few examples of notes and prayers people had written into their Bibles. But it was rare to find any color. One young teen drew rainbows and birds into the Psalms. Another mom posted a photo of her toddler’s pink crayon scribbled into the mom’s devotional Bible. A precious mark for sure.
Now when you Google “writing in the margins of your Bible” you will discover an array of words, colors, prayers, images, artwork, paint, joy. You’ll find journalers, scrapbookers and margin writers who have discovered how the Holy Spirit can meet them in a creative process in the margins of their Bibles. Something has happened!
When I wrote over five years ago, “The invitation of this book is, at its simplest, to pick up a pen and write in the blank spaces of your Bible,” I never could have imagined the growth and power this movement would have. I could never have imagined that writing in the margins of our Bibles would meet the scrapbooking world. I could never have imagined that now, in 2016, five of the top twenty bestsellers on Amazon are adult coloring books. This “scriptural” discipline of taking pen, marker, and/or paint to the margin of scripture is creating places of joy, creativity, and identity in people’s daily lives.
These practices are first and foremost solitary. An individual sits quietly and creatively in the presence of God to let the scripture speak to them and then guide their hand. However, what we have learned is that these practices also shape community. Whether the community is a Bible study, or a small group meeting at a local scrapbooking store, the large “Journaling Bible Community” on Facebook, or a smaller regional group like “DC Metro Bible Journaling” group, individuals are gathering in deepened community to learn, share, reflect, pray, and grow.
Connie Denninger, a creative faith coach, who has studied church and community leadership, recognizes this opportunity. She enjoys networking with women across the country through social media to deploy them to be digital missionaries, creating small networks of Bible journalers. These creative havens provide a space for sharing information about the practice, discovering formation through the practice, and living into transformation by way of the scriptural practices. Connie says this practice of margin writing provides a way to be “re-arranged.” She explains further, “Bible journaling and margin writing are a place for spiritual transformation where God at work in our lives can move all sorts of pieces around all at once.” We become shaped by the word. I appreciate how Connie moves us from the individual practice to community fellowship and then takes us a step further to ministry. Folks equipped in the practice of margin writing can then serve their church, neighborhood and community ministries teaching others the practice and finding joy in so doing. At a recent Bible journaling retreat, Connie worked with a woman who had been estranged from both the church and from spiritual practices. After being turned loose in scripture to journal and draw and create, the woman said to Connie as the retreat came to a close, “Do you feel the ice melting around my heart?”
When I started exploring Bible margins a few years ago, I prayed that the margins of Rich Gordon’s Bible might inspire and encourage others to continue the practice. I never could have imagined the transformation that would occur as margin writing, social media, scrapbooking and the adult coloring book craze ignited new practices of scriptural disciplines. My hope is that more hearts melt and discover as the ice cracks creative faith, color-filled hope and illuminated love.
Lisa Nichols Hickman is a pastor at New Wilmington Presbyterian Church, author of Writing in the Margins: Connecting with God on the Pages of Your Bible and adjunct teacher at Westminster College in the Religion Department. She writes regularly for Faith and Leadership online magazine as well as its “Call and Response” blog. Recent articles appear in The Huffington Post, in The New Castle News and in The Pittsburgh Post Gazette. She lives in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.