Growing up in the Bible Belt, you usually learn a few things about church regardless of your affiliation with it, and there are certain rules we perpetuate whether they’re actually in the Bible or not. One that’s always stuck with me was how I’m supposed to treat my Bible.
I had a pretty on-again, off-again relationship with church growing up, but I always owned a Bible. Granted, I didn’t read it unless I was in Sunday School, but I always had one nonetheless. And despite my overall lack of concern for it, there were rules I was always being told about it.
Don’t let your Bible touch the ground. Be gentle with your Bible. And don’t you dare write in your Bible.
I was so scared of damaging my Bible that I didn’t dare to touch the thing.
Fast forward. It’s 2018. I’ve been going to church pretty regularly for maybe a decade. And all those rules that got drilled into me have been broken on numerous occasions.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I have several Bibles with different purposes, which might sound like a brag, but it’s so I don’t forget to take one with me. At this point, they’re all in varied degrees of destruction. Just so you get the gist:
There’s my ESV Study Bible. It’s relatively new with its pristine coral cover and crisp pages. I haven’t had it long enough to even break the spine. However, if you flip it open using the bookmark, you’ll notice a rainbow of underlines, boxes, and marginal notes–all in a color code only my strange little head can understand. And yet, if she were here to do it, my grandmother would scold me for writing in it.
And then there’s my NIV Study Bible. It was one of my first study Bibles, and sheer years of use have taken their toll by now. Not to mention the innumerable cat scratches on the chocolate brown cover, somehow just missing the sky blue embroidered flower that covers its front. The ribbon bookmark is not quite so lucky. It often serves as a distraction for the cat while I read, leaving it a lank shadow of its former self. And the pages are stained with my smudged handwriting, especially in the spots I go back to over and over. That said, it’s in pretty decent shape aside from the fact my cat thinks it’s a toy.
And finally, there’s the Bible I keep in my car. Small, black leather binding, tabs for quick referencing since I wasn’t a Bible Drills kid. If you take a closer look, you’ll notice notes in the margins and on the blank pages of the inside cover. The whole thing has a slight bend to it from being shoved into weird places when I travel. Bookmarks, pieces of random paper, cards from different camps, and who knows what else jut out of it at different angles. There’s a small chunk taken out of 2 Samuel because something got stuck to the page.
That Bible’s a trouper, and it’s probably my favorite one. It’s been everywhere with me: Maine, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Starkville, Jackson–If I’ve been there, so has that poor, beautiful book. And I can look back on notes in its margins and tell you what sermon it was from and how old I was when I wrote it. And you know what? It’s been on the ground. I’m clearly not gentle with it. And it’s covered in ink from black fine-tip Pilot G2 pens. I can imagine my grandmother rolling over in her grave as I type that.
And yet, it’s entirely okay.
One of the things that I’ve learned as a student, especially as an English major, is that books are made to be annotated. That’s how we know what we were thinking when we read it, how we judge our own headspace and the text itself. The way that we know how medieval texts were received by their audiences is because someone owned these pricelessly embellished, illuminated texts and wrote all over them!
Yes, your Bible is the spoken Word of God, written down by several different authors over the span of several centuries in a variety of languages. But you know what? One of the best feelings in the world is looking back at that passage you’ve read over and over, adding new things you’ve learned, realizing you misspelled “Gospel” somewhere in Ephesians as a new believer and having to correct your note, reminding yourself what God has revealed to you through that text.
I heard a few years ago that if a person’s Bible is falling apart, their life probably isn’t. That stuck with me, almost as much as those rules drilled into my head by my parents and grandmother.
So interact with your Bible! You can read it and read it, and you’ll learn something, of course. But how are you going to remember each little drop of knowledge God lays on you when you read? Take notes in a journal. Underline the verses that really speak to you. Don’t be afraid to jot down notes in those tiny slivers of white space.
If you’re willing to take detailed notes and highlight your textbook for a class you’re not going to remember in four years, why wouldn’t you give the same attention to something you’ll remember for eternity?
Kaitlin Flowers is a senior English major from Tupelo, Mississippi. She is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and is currently in the process of thesis research. She co-leads the BSU’s communication ministry and moderates the BSU blog. Her future likely involves books, cats, and unhealthy amounts of coffee.