A Prayer for Advent

The first prompt in the next chapter of Writing in the Margins suggests asking friends and family members their favorite scripture and writing a prayer based on it.  At our Thanksgiving feast this year, I asked a few of the friends and family gathered for their favorite verses.  So I’ll turn my attention to these passages!

I’ve been giggling about this one.  My son keeps asking me what’s so funny—I’m not sure he would see the humor so I haven’t tried to explain it to him.  But I asked someone in my life for a favorite Bible Verse and the quick response was, “Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I will say rejoice.  It’s somewhere in Philippians.”  My first thought was, “That’s cheery verse.”  And my second thought was, “That was not the answer I expected.”  (I would have guessed the 23rd Psalm.)

So I quickly located the verse in Philippians, and what cracks me up is the next verse:  “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.”  Just so you can maybe see the humor:  I’ve just never been known for being reasonable in my rejoicing!  Matter of fact, every time I’ve had a celebratory gathering for friends and family, I am cautioned:  “Be reasonable.”   But I just do what feels right and easy for me to create a fun and joyful experience for everyone, and “reasonable” is not a word that really resonates with me when I am in the midst of rejoicing!  But now I can see better why one might think the two can go hand-in-hand.

I practiced this verse in a few color schemes was surprised to see red and green emerge as my favorite.  Honestly, this is a lovely passage to have in mind during Advent:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonable ness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

In the top margin, I wrote a prayer for Advent based on the passage:

It is time to rejoice the birth of Jesus!  Let us do so reasonably, without anxiety, with a spirit of joyful gratitude.  Guard our hearts and minds.  Give us your peace, which surpasses understanding!


Genealogy and Hope

There’s one more prompt at the end of this chapter in Writing in the Margins:

Turn to Matthew 1, the genealogy of Jesus.  In the margins, jot down you genealogy as far back as you can remember.  How does God use genealogies to speak to us?  What is the point of the genealogy of Jesus?  What is the hope of your genealogy?

How does God use genealogies to speak to us?

In quieter moments, I like to reflect on the marriage of Sarah and Abraham and the impact their union continues to have on all subsequent generations of their family.  Thousands of years later, the story is remembered of Abraham’s faith, of just how long it took Sarah to get pregnant, and of the miracle of Isaac’s life.  The stories of our ancestors become part of who we are.  Marriages are part of the intricately woven fabric of human life and help answer, on a basic level, questions regarding our existence and how we came to be.   Sarah and Abraham remind me that when God brings two people together a whole new world is created; the future is changed forever.  So often, we live in the moment, but genealogies remind me that God’s perspective is eternal.

What is the point of the genealogy of Jesus?

To me, the genealogy of Jesus suggests that he arrived in the fullness of time, that his life is firmly rooted in the story of the Hebrew people, and that he is the fulfillment of prophecy.  But I’ve always wondered why it shows the genealogy of Joseph?  My puzzlement makes me wonder if everything we know now about pregnancy and genetics colors my view of fatherhood in a way that it didn’t in Biblical times.  Joseph was Jesus’ father because he helped preserve his life and provide for him as Mary’s husband.  One more thing the genealogies suggest to me:  it took a lot of prior marriages to create the perfect father for Jesus.

What is the hope of your genealogy?

First I should say, I didn’t do a complete genealogy, I just mapped out a super-easy branch of my family tree.  (My margin-writing grandmother was also a member of DAR, and as luck would have it, I have a copy of her application.)  The most incredible thing to me about this experience is just having the knowledge that the 1st generation American ancestor whom I happen to know the most about was Presbyterian and lived not too far from my current home.  As I thought about his move from Scotland to the USA and about how many of his descendants moved west, I could feel the hope for a better life—one of love, faith, health, freedom, and opportunity.


I wrote the preceding words late in the evening and woke up with these words ringing in my ear:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

And thought/felt/heard: “Daughter of the American Revolution.”  This journey through Writing in the Margins keeps taking me in wildly unexpected places!


You Are Blessed

I have a confession…please forgive me.  The Bible is filled with miracles and things that seem impossible, but I can more easily believe that Moses parted the Red Sea than I can read the conversation between Elizabeth and Mary as a real conversation.  I’ve never heard words so beautiful—this is not typical girl talk!  When I consider young Mary responding to Elizabeth’s “Hail Mary” with the “Magnificat” I have trouble believing the words came out of either one of them.  Maybe the seeds of doubt were planted somewhere along the line listening to theories about the authorship of Luke and the parallels between the Magnificat and Hannah’s song from Samuel or maybe the answer lies in my own stereotypical view of “girl talk” or that I need to be more feminist.

I decided to suspend my disbelief and read it again coming straight from the lips of Mary.  What I hear in the song is the voice of a prophet calling for huge changes in the world—and it just never occurred to me to think of Mary as a prophet  Tonight as my 7-year-old son fell asleep beside me we listened to Bach’s Magnifcat in E-flat major.  I pondered how wonderful it must have been to know Jesus as a seven-year-old and thought some more about Mary as a prophet, as one who speaks for God.  I remembered my son as a baby and toddler:  how I understood his needs and could easily interpret his early attempts at communication.  I would speak for him so that others knew, too.  And it hit me, Mary as mother of God absolutely was a prophet in the most intimate of ways.  We don’t appreciate Mary enough in the Protestant tradition.

Lisa Nichols Hickmans shares some fun questions about this passage that almost have to be considered in two parts…

What instruments would you use to help your contemporaries hear this song?  What lyrics would you highlight?  What group would you like to hear do a rendition of this song?  What would the chorus be?

Mmm….I listened to a number of renditions of the Magnificat and they were all glorious.  I might pick a different path if I set this to music.  I understand that the Magnificat is used as an evening prayer in some church traditions.  I might like to hear it sung more as a lullaby with a simple accompaniment—and as far as an artist to sing the song?  Fernando Ortega comes to mind.  I love his voice and his music has been a huge blessing to me.  The chorus would be:  And we still sing, oh Mary, you are blessed!

Write a few petitions for what might need to be turned upside down in the world around us.

My simple petition would be for a blessing on all marriages—that God give couples the desire and strength to honor their marriage promises.  And I would add to it a petition that as a society we would begin to once again see the precious nature of marriage and another petition that God grants protection to children and healing to pain resulting from all broken family relationships.

I’ve been reflecting on Mary as I read this passage, but I don’t want to forget about Joseph, who in so many ways reminds me of the Joseph on my mind in the previous post.  Mary’s Joseph was a dreamer, too, and he preserved Jesus’ life by taking him to Egypt and also provided for Jesus during his childhood years.  Mary and Joseph are such a beautiful couple facing surprises and hardships together through the childhood years of Jesus!  How I Wish that I could have listened to their dinner time conversations!!!

Once I had a chorus and some petitions, the song wrote itself…


Maybe someone with more skill, training, and musical gifts could be blessed by at least the idea for a simple hymn to marriage!


Preserve and Provide

In Writing in the Margins, Lisa Nichol Hickmans shares a prompt based on Florence Nightingale’s margin notes:

Florence Nightingale finds an insight into her vocation next to Genesis 45:5, where she wrote, “God did send me to preserve life.”  What insight about your particular calling would you like to write in your margin?

As I thought about my vocation (preserving wealth), I found I had a hard time putting the words “Preserve wealth” in my Bible—yet that’s what I do for a living.

This caused a long reflection on prosperity, riches, and money (sorry!)

Throughout the Old Testament God promises the Hebrews prosperity if they walk in obedience to what God commanded.  And much of what God commands lays the foundation for a prosperous society.  Consider some of the basic laws:  do not murder, do not steal, honor your mother and father, keep your marriage promises (pardon the paraphrase; usually when I talk about the Ten Commandments it is to four-year-olds, and its just not easy to explain the word adultery to little ones, but they do understand what it means to keep promises!), and don’t bear false witnesses about things these things.  When these laws are followed in society, we are blessed by safety, property rights, and provision for the old and the young.  We are given the basis for a judicial system, which requires honest witness.

Then you get the New Testament and there’s a subtle shift.  The rules are simpler:  Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.  The promise that God gives in return is simplified, too.  The word prosperity is found rarely in the New Testament, but there are many, many assurances that our needs will be met abundantly.

There’s no getting around it:  Money is often portrayed in an extremely negative light in the New Testament.  Jesus says it’s harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, and St. Paul tells us “love of money” is the root of all kinds of evils.  Melville (still on my mind) shares this gem:

But being paid,—what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvelous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly Ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!

Why is there such a negative view of money in the New Testament?  I think a lot of it comes down to not only what Jesus taught, but how he died.  Most scholars believe that the event that led to the crucifixion was the cleansing of the temple.  Jesus was angry at the money changers essentially for getting between people and their experience of God at the temple.  We understand as Christians that Jesus died for our sins, but the practical truth is that Jesus died because he wanted to drive the money changers out of the temple.  What Jesus died to say:  Money can’t buy access to God—NOTHING can get between us and the love of God.

It is nearly impossible to reconcile the conflicting views about money in the Bible.  If you talk with other Christians you find people fall into one of two camps:  “the work hard and obey God and you will prosper” crowd and “the stay as far away as possible from the love of money” crowd.  So I’ve always found myself in a strange place with money:  On the one hand I work hard and I help people manage their money so that it will be there for their future needs.  On the other hand, I always have Christ’s words ringing in my ears when I think of money personally.  I absolutely trust and believe that my needs will be met but I somehow hold this belief without regard to whether I have money or not (a lesson I learned in lean times).  Lately, I’ve been feeling a need to move beyond the tensions inherent in my beliefs about money!

A better way?

The more I think about this subject, the deeper my conviction:  coming to a positive, balanced understanding of money is worthwhile and important.  When you consider the times that Jesus praised the use of money, it was in response to individuals giving generously and personally–they obeyed the generous impulse!  He encouraged the use of money as a way of blessing others.  The good Samaritan is one example, which I wrote about in an earlier post.  There is also the time that Jesus defends the woman who poured costly ointment on his head; his disciples called it waste, but he promises her generous act will be remembered for all time.  Money is just one way that God blesses us and we can bless others.  Every time we pay a fair price for a good or service we bless those who gave their time to make the good or provide the service and we are blessed in return.  When we have the opportunity to use our money to make the way easier for others or bless others in a tangible way, we honor God:  “Every good and perfect gift is form above.”  Thinking of money as a blessing eliminates so many of the ways that people get money wrong.  If you choose to bless others with your money exchanges, you won’t cheat them or hurt them or try to sell them something that can’t be sold.  If you accept that money is a blessing to you, then you are thankful to the source of blessings (Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!) and you don’t put your faith in money.  You won’t be overly anxious about money either.  (What this means for me professionally:  Stay focused on the right course of action to provide for long-term financial needs without worrying excessively about day-to-day swings in the market.)  I feel like my understanding of money is moving in a healthy direction.

Here’s what found its way to my margins…Joseph is a Biblical character I’ve always deeply admired!

Joseph-The first economic forecaster.  He helped people save during good years to provide for the hard years.  He was a faithful and trusted advisor and yet a dreamer who was able to show love and emotion.  He forgave easily and had faith in God’s providence.


God-pleasing Music

In the book Writing in the Margins, Lisa Nichol Hickman shares marginalia examples from the Bible of Johann Sebastian Bach.   Next to 1 Chronicles 25 Bach wrote:

“This chapter is the true foundation of all God-pleasing music.”

Curious, I read the passage and discovered that like much of Chronicles it read to me like a list of names that didn’t have a lot of meaning to me.  I thought, “This passage is not speaking to me.  Why did it come alive in such a meaningful way for Bach?”

So I made myself read the passage again looking for the answer to the question:  What is God-pleasing music?  And the passage opened up to me in an entirely new way!

  • It is prophecy:  God speaks to us through music!
  • It offers thanksgiving and praise.
  • It serves the house of God.
  • It requires training and skill.
  • It’s a gift that runs in families.

It’s clear from Bach’s life and what is known about his strong Lutheran faith that he saw music as service to the glory of God; he often signed both secular and church work “in the name of Jesus.”  And of course, he had 20 children and came from a musical family; music was always a family affair for him.  He was also a music teacher, so I can understand his appreciation for the emphasis on training and skill in the passage.  But doesn’t it profoundly change your understanding of Bach’s music to know that he so easily related to a Biblical passage equating music with prophecy?  It makes me want to listen to some Bach!!!  It also makes me appreciate the many times that a piece of music spoke straight to my heart!

I thought I might share a link to another blog post written on the subject by a fellow member of the Journaling Bible Community on Facebook (It is fun to see her margin art, too)!


Herman Melville, Margin Writer

The next prompt in Writing in the Margins is to consider the Magnificat, but mentally, I just can’t make the leap from stink bugs and the locust plague (the theme of my last post) to such a beautiful passage.  Fortunately, there are several examples in this chapter titled “Maginalia and Memos, Scholia and Scribbles” that capture my imagination.  I think maybe I’ll turn my attention to these.

Lisa Nichols Hickman shares the example of Herman Melville’s Bible and the marginal notations found in it.  Before I had children, I struggled through Moby Dick.  There was something unspoken in the text that resonated with me and propelled me forward through the pages—some searching quality.  And I completely and totally identify with the quotation from St. Evremond found in the back of Melville’s Bible:

Who well considers the Christian religion, would think that God meant to keep it in the dark from our understandings, and make it turn upon the motions of our heart.

Melville is a favorite example of mine for saying that everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike, should read the Bible.  Without prior knowledge of the Bible, one can’t even begin to make sense of the very first sentence of Moby Dick:  “Call me Ishmael.”  What inspired me to read Moby Dick in the first place was reading that it is probably the most important American novel, especially in terms of its influence on writers to come.  To be a fully literate reader of Western literature it helps to be Bible literate.

I added the quote from St. Everemond to one of the blank back pages of my Bible along with some quotes from Melville:


Here’s one more Melville quote I feel inspired to share:

To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it.

I was thinking just about the same thing as I wrote about stink bugs.


A Prayer for the Apple Orchards

The next prompt in Writing in the Margins:

Turn to Exodus 10, the plaque of locust.  Scratch out the word locusts and write something from your native area that plagues your community.  How was God using the plaques to get the attention of Pharaoh?  Write a prayer in the margin.

I live in an area surrounded by apple orchards, so stink bugs come to mind.  Wondering how I would ever write anything about stink bugs in the margins of my Bible, I decided today to stop for apples at the fruit orchard near my house.  While there I asked the lady attending the fruit stand for her thoughts.  I explained that I was trying to think of the modern equivalent for the locust plague.  Without hesitation she said, “stink bugs!”   She continued:  “It was kind of like a plague at first.  They were everywhere!”  After the cold winter we had last year, they were less of a problem this year.

We talked for a while about the year-round labor involved in growing apples.  As I listened to the lady talk, the thought occurred to me, “There is something inherently courageous about having an apple orchard as a business.”  I also started feeling increasingly dismayed by the thought of all that work and tender care being undone by the arrival of stink bugs; they make the outer surface of the fruit bruise and rot when they eat.  She explained that as bad as stink bugs are, hail is even more devastating.  One year, the orchard lost the whole apple crop during a short hail storm.  I asked her how it affects one’s faith to know that your whole year’s work could be destroyed by a bad day of weather.  She said, “That’s a better question for the owner, but the year of the hail storm was also the year his wife was terribly ill.  She died that winter, so it worked out in a way.  He was not so busy with the store and had time to be with her.”  For me, her comments were a hint that the orchardist was somehow able to see a glimpse of providence in a year of extraordinary loss.  I was in tears upon leaving the apple orchard.  There’s a quote that came to mind attributed to Martin Luther:  “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

Here’s the prayer that found itself into my margins:

God I deeply appreciate the abundance of peaches and apples where I live.  Please bless the orchards and all those who work there and keep the crops safe.


Just yesterday, I was thinking of the wonder I feel whenever I see monarch butterflies.  It’s a totally different feeling of surprise to open my Bible and see a stink bug.  I am so used to finding them on my tooth brush in the morning or in one of my daughter’s toys or on the wall–so the feeling that I have when I open my Bible and see this sketch is “Not again!”.

A Tribute to The Saint John’s Bible

Lisa Nichols Hickman suggests doodling some butterflies in Mark as in the St. John’s Bible, so I googled “The Saint John’s Bible.”  Whoa!  Can I just say that I am glad she suggested this toward the middle of her book.  If I would have discovered the St. John’s Bible sooner in my journey, I would have been totally intimidated and probably would never have started this project and definitely not this blog.  For me it was one of those, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” kind of moments.   The Saint John’s Bible is an incredible modern, illuminated manuscript written by hand in beautiful calligraphy and accompanied by fine art.  I was awestruck and suddenly felt the urge to travel to Minnesota!

Images of The Saint John’s Bible can be found online; so I tracked down the Mark resurrection accounts and was touched to see a realistic portrayal of monarch butterflies.  As I humbly created my own little sketch of monarch butterflies in the margins of Mark, I just felt happy thinking of the gift of time that went into the creation of the St. John’s Bible.  It’s hard to put in words, but it was sweet to discover something that means as much to me as butterflies do in the margins of a holy piece of art.  I especially love monarch butterflies.  We have a butterfly garden and plenty of milkweed in our backyard; I have always marveled at the monarch migration and look forward to their arrival in my yard every year.  As I drew a tiny caterpillar, a chrysalis, and the butterflies, it made me think of the resurrection in a new, deeply personal way–as something amazing that we already know happens!  Feeling grateful for discovering such a beautiful work of art (and heart!) and saying a little prayer for the monarch butterflies tonight!


Donald Jackson the artistic director of the St. John’s Bible shared a practical tip in the video “A Lifetime’s Dream” that I thought I could share:  When working with text in an artistic way, it can be really helpful and time-saving to do the layout on the computer first.  This takes some of the guess work out of how the text will fit in the space available.  Honestly, I’ve been doing this myself to save time.  For example, on the last two pages of my Bible where I simply wrote down 24 or so Bible verses, I tested the concept for those pages by setting them up in Microsoft Publisher before trying to write it down in my Bible, which helped me get all the verses to fit and line up well.

A Dedication

The next prompt in Writing in the Margins…

Why do you write in the margins of your Bible?  Choose a blank space somewhere in your Bible, and write a “margin manifesto.”  Write your own mission statement in the margins.  Turn to this upon occasion to remind yourself why this scriptural discipline is important to you.

I brainstormed a list of reasons for why I write in the margins of my Bible on a scrap of paper.  I started with kind of lofty statement, but settled on a much simpler one because it evoked the strongest emotional response from me…

I write in the margins…

  • to encounter the living God amidst the living Word
  • to deepen my walk with God
  • because it is a fun way to spend time in the Word
  • because it helps me memorize verses and write them in my heart
  • because I want to know the Bible better
  • because it is a creative hobby that just takes a little time each day, but provides endless inspiration
  • because I’ve discovered that as I think about passages in a more creative way, I gain new insights
  • because I want my children to have my Bible as a keepsake of their mother’s faith (I guess I’ll have to fill two Bibles!)
  • because it gives me an excuse to buy and explore different art suppliers (just being honest!)
  • as a way of seeing old familiar passages in new ways
  • as a way of bringing my whole self to meet God in the margins
  • as a way to honor the command to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind

In the small space on the first page, I added a reminder that this is Bible is my sincere effort to follow the first part of the great commandment:  Love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.  And in the wide open space, I drew a picture of an open Bible and the reminder from Hebrews that the World of God is living and active–you never know what will happen once you open the pages and dive in!


Happy Dance!

The next prompt from Writing on the Margins:

2 Samuel 6:14 speaks of David dancing before the ark.  This moment marked the edge of something new that God was up to among the people of Israel.  Rabindranath Tagore suggests we might dance on the edge of the page.  What is God up to anew in your life that is worthy of a dance?  Give thanks for that in the edge of the margin next to 2 Samuel 6:14

What a fun prompt!  It should be apparent what has me doing a happy dance!  I am overjoyed to see how Bible journaling has spread like wildfire.  It is so cool and inspiring to see scrapbookers and mixed media artists turn their attention to the margins of the Bible.  (But you don’t have to be a great artist to get started.  All you need is a desire to spend time in the word in a new way!  Take it from someone who is totally learning as she goes!!!)

In October I joined a Facebook group organized by artist Shanna Noel called the Journaling Bible Community.  When I joined there were just over 2000 members.  Six weeks later there are over 5,000 members.  And the group was only started in August 2014.  I am blown away (and humbled) by the beautiful and inspiring artwork that pops up in my Facebook newsfeed each day.

Just as David was a little reluctant to bring the ark of God into Jerusalem, it’s quite common for people to join the group and confess “It is kind of scary to get started.”  If you are new to the concept of Bible journaling (and who isn’t?), the group offers an amazing opportunity to see how Bible journaling has blessed those who give it a try!  Once you start, I imagine you will be doing a happy dance, too!!!

Here’s the prayer that found itself in the margins of this passage:

Dear God, thank you for the ways you show up in our lives.  I feel like dancing with joy when I see so many people meeting you in the margins of their Bibles!  Bless the ways that people are coming to your Word in new and surprising ways, and bless the rapidly growing Journaling Bible Community!  Love, Sally