Post Author: Traci Smith
People assume pastors read the Bible every day for spiritual growth and study. In my experience this is almost universally false. Many pastors say we read the Bible every day, or we don’t correct the assumption that we do this; but get a pastor talking honestly about our complex relationship with the Bible, and many will admit that, no, we don’t read the Bible every day. In fact, many of us only read it when we’re preparing for a sermon or a Bible Study. The Bible is a tool in our belt, a means to an end. We flip it open (or call it up on our web browsers) to figure out how to provide spiritual food for our congregants, but we’re not using it to feed our own spiritual hunger first. How sad, especially given the fact that so many of us became ministers and pastors precisely because of how much the Bible led us into ministry.
I wonder if it’s seminary that made our relationship with the Bible so complicated. I know that is true for me. It started with all of the classes on the Bible, beginning with Old and New Testament 201. Followed by Exegesis, Hebrew, Greek and so on. In seminary the work was always to come up with a new theory or interpretation, something nobody had thought of before. “C’mon Bible,” I would think, “Tell me what I need to know.” I remember sitting in the basement of the Princeton Theological Seminary library one afternoon reading about the lack of archeological evidence for the walls of Jericho and feeling like it was the last straw. Is it true that there may not have been actual walls that fell? It felt like something had been taken away from me. I felt the same way I did when I had to dissect a frog in High School. Seeing all the guts all over the place made me uneasy. I muddled through, though, and graduated from seminary with a new, even deeper love for the Bible.
Soon after seminary I was ordained and became a minister. The Bible and I became adversaries again. “Just tell me what I need to know so I can preach the sermon,” I tell the Bible sometimes. The Bible usually complies. I draw out my fancy hermeneutics and scholarship and I have something to give to my congregants. But what about my own spiritual nourishment? It’s true that in teaching others we teach ourselves as well, but it’s also true that we need often something more than sermon preparation to keep us spiritually connected.
A while ago I began to feel the weight of the disconnect between my sermon preparation and my own spiritual growth. I wanted to reclaim the relationship with the Bible that I used to have — before seminary, before ministry — back when the Bible and I were good friends. I wanted the playful, wondrous faith of my youth and early adulthood. I wanted scripture to surprise and delight me. I stumbled upon art journaling for the Bible, and as I continue the practice, I’m finding that the Holy Spirit is using it in just the ways I was hoping for. It has been an unexpected and wonderful gift.
Art journaling for the Bible can take make many different forms, including drawing and painting. Some people choose to do art only in the margins, others cover the entire page. Sitting in front of my Bible with oil pastels and watercolors and colored pencils takes away the element of having to have the Bible show me something specific to give to someone else. I light a candle, fix a cup of tea and let the Spirit show me something new. Fear not, for I am with you. After the paint dries, the candle is still flickering. I flip the page and continue reading. Hello, old friend! It’s good to be with you again.
Traci Smith is Pastor of Northwood Presbyterian Church, San Antonio and author of Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life. To read more about her practice of Bible Journaling visit her posts on the topic here and here.
Image by: Traci Smith
Used with permission