Bible Marginalia

What Nehemiah Taught Me on My Summer Vacation

Educator and visual faith practitioner Elizabeth Valente describes for us the blessing of setting apart some vacation time for focused time in the Word …… we are grateful for her authentic and inspirational sharing!

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Like most educators, by the time May rolled around this year, I was ready for the end of another academic year. I was tired. I was weary. I still loved my middle schoolers, but we all were due for a break. I needed time to rest, renew, reflect, and reconnect. 

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Several years ago I discovered Bible journaling. I was intrigued - so I armed myself with a journaling Bible, some colored pencils, and an ever growing Pinterest board - and got to work. The perfectionist in me gave herself over to the experience, and I found myself interacting with scripture in a way I had never done before. I loved the fact that I was in The Word in a new and exciting way. I loved it so much that I brought it into my classroom, and weekly my students and I would take our morning religion time to read, reflect, write, and color in our Bibles. We all were using our Bibles in a new and unique way. It was beautiful to see. But....as this year progressed, my personal time journaling became less and less, pushed out by all the other things I “needed” to get done.

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The week after school got out, I sat in my quiet classroom looking at the empty seats and decided it was time to return to The Word. I immediately thought of Nehemiah. I desperately needed to rebuild my walls. I needed to renew my commitment to God, and rediscover what His Word had to tell me. Deciding that the double whammy of Word and prayer was necessary, I downloaded some prayer sheets from the Visual Faith website and got to work.

Here’s what I learned:

Nehemiah is one of my new favorite people - Jerusalem was broken and destroyed. It was a shadow of what it had been, and when Nehemiah heard this, what did he do? He mourned. He grieved for what was done to God’s city, but then....then he got up and got to work. Never doubting God, he got the king to grant him permission to go rebuild the walls, and he even convinced the king to get his buddies to donate materials to do so.

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When the time came, Nehemiah worked right along side the people, many times with a sword in one hand to fight the enemies that sought to stop them. He endured ridicule and conspiracies, all the while remaining faithful and strong in his convictions and God’s plan. He was generous with the people and made sure they were given what they needed for their bodies and their spirits. Oh - and he had no problem telling them when they’d messed up and to knock it off. In short, Nehemiah was pretty awesome.

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I don’t need a study guide - One of my problems with maintaining a regular devotional life has been that I didn’t quite know what to “do” with the Bible. That sounds ridiculous, coming from a synodically trained teacher, but there it is. I felt I needed a devotional or study guide to dig deeper into scripture. After all, I’d heard all these stories before, what more could I learn on my own?

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What I discovered was that I simply needed time to reflect, and the act of lettering and coloring gave me that time. I set myself the goal of reading a chapter each day and finding one sentence that spoke to me - one sentence that resonated. This was surprisingly easy to do. I discovered that this 21st century middle school teacher could relate to a 5th century BC cup bearer to a king. Just like Nehemiah, I need to be focused on the tasks God set before me, never doubting that He is in control and will bless the work I do. I too need strong hands, and a mind to work. I also need to be attentive to God’s Word and understand the work I accomplish is because our God is so very great. Over all of this, I should never forget that God is gracious, merciful, and abounding in love. These are the lessons God taught me as I pushed other distractions out of the way and gave Him my listening ear.

Visual prayer reflections from the first six chapters of Nehemiah, recorded on one of the “prayer spaces” - a free download from the Visual Faith Ministry website.

Visual prayer reflections from the first six chapters of Nehemiah, recorded on one of the “prayer spaces” - a free download from the Visual Faith Ministry website.

Prayer completed our exchange - Once I was finished in my Bible, I turned to my prayer page. By praying in color I was able to connect what I’d read to where I am. Much like the graphic organizers I use in my classroom, the sheets I used allowed me to focus what I’d read about and seek to apply it to my life. Right along with Nehemiah, I pleaded for God to hear me when I sang for joy and when I whispered His name. I prayed that He would strengthen me for the tasks He has called me to do, and I praised Him for His generosity and His omnipotence. Prayer is what solidified the timelessness and relevance of God’s Word.

Another example of “prayer spaces” used for visual prayer and praying scripture right into our daily lives!

Another example of “prayer spaces” used for visual prayer and praying scripture right into our daily lives!

I do have the time - As a woman who is a wife, a mother, and a full-time teacher, my time is not always my own. The excuse that I don’t have enough hours in my day, has been a favorite of mine for a while. Being on summer break removed that excuse, but I realized that no matter how busy my schedule is, “not having enough time” is a terribly flimsy defense. The time I’ve spent this summer wasn’t perfect; it wasn’t always uninterrupted time. There were moments when I’d put my headphones in to drown out the sounds of Peppa Pig or the five millionth repeat of “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin. There were plenty of instances when my reflections were interrupted by my daughter, who needed a hug or my help with something she was focused on. Sometimes I didn’t journal in my Bible and pray in the same moments. And sometimes, I missed days all together. And that’s okay.

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Despite all of that, God still richly blessed the time I did spend with Him. Before long, I found myself craving those moments, missing them when they didn’t happen. This is what, I believe, God truly wants from us in our quiet (and not so quiet) moments with Him. He wants us to hunger for what He has to share with us. He wants us to look forward to time with Him. He wants to shower us with His abundant love. As David so aptly described in Psalm 42, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”  He wants to refresh us in ways we can’t even comprehend. For the first time, in a long time, I felt this thirst. It was marvelous.

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For me, Bible journaling and praying in color has become a touchstone, a way to feed my need to be creative, while reflecting on God’s Word and His many, many blessings.

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As summer quickly winds down, I am so thankful for the time I’ve gotten to be sill and remember that He is God. I will take the lessons I’ve learned from Nehemiah as I prepare for another school year and pray that God will continue to strengthen my hands for the good work He’s set before me.

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Elizabeth Valente is the 7/8th grade teacher at Trinity Lutheran School in Jackson. She teaches and uses visual faith practices in her classroom - and even includes a journaling Bible on her school supply list each year! This summer, along with journaling in her Bible, she used the 12 Prayer Spaces resource created by Ruth Schian for visual prayer.

To use this resource for your own visual prayer time, find it on the Visual Faith Ministry website here:

https://www.visualfaithmin.org/print-color-pray/prayer-spaces-by-ruth-schian



What to Journal - Bulletin Graffiti and Worship Experience

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I always scribble notes on my bulletin - not just sermon notes, but thoughts about what I see, word art doodles, or  just drawing a line around significant words from the liturgy or a hymn. The bulletin usually gets tucked into my Bible if the rest of the day is busy. I have to be honest -- these "bulletin bites" often get tossed in the trash when too many pages stuffed-in-and-sticking-out signal that a cleaning out is needed! But when I’m moved by words or an experience that I don’t want to forget, returning to reflect and re-organize my notes & “take-always” creates an enjoyable devotion time and marks a step in my faith journey.

Zion Lutheran Church, Kalamazoo, Michigan -- 150 years old!

Zion Lutheran Church, Kalamazoo, Michigan -- 150 years old!

I recently attended a church that was celebrating their 150th anniversary - the planned celebration and service was a visual delight, starting with the magnificent sunrise. Members had thoughtfully created a special "booklet bulletin" for worship that day, with lots of story and explanation about what and why they were celebrating.

The "story" they offered for ALL worshipers drew me in and included me in the excitement of this day -- the detail was witness to the love of these people for their church.

The "story" they offered for ALL worshipers drew me in and included me in the excitement of this day -- the detail was witness to the love of these people for their church.

Behind the order of service, were pages that showed me that their theme was personal -- not just words, but a reminder of what they were DOING.

Behind the order of service, were pages that showed me that their theme was personal -- not just words, but a reminder of what they were DOING.

Words expressing the heart of early church planners were included and connected me to their faith and forethought as I came to worship: architectural lines designed to sweep thoughts of worshipers upward as they view the stained glass window, with rich symbolism of the Old & New Covenants - the Lamb of God centered as the center of their faith. Certainly something to remember!

Words expressing the heart of early church planners were included and connected me to their faith and forethought as I came to worship: architectural lines designed to sweep thoughts of worshipers upward as they view the stained glass window, with rich symbolism of the Old & New Covenants - the Lamb of God centered as the center of their faith. Certainly something to remember!

This visual inclusion made me want to capture this worship experience, learn from their looking back, and be able to share this with others - so I held onto the booklet. It sat on my kitchen counter until I found time to journal. A journaling Bible can be the place for these memories of faith and worship, to mark a tiny space in time where God encourages you in your walk with Him.

I was "caught doodling" by my new friend Phil, who was taking pictures after the service (possibly to tell the story for the next 150 years?!)

I was "caught doodling" by my new friend Phil, who was taking pictures after the service (possibly to tell the story for the next 150 years?!)

I traced the doodle from my bulletin right onto my Bible page and copied a photo of the beautiful window from the booklet to add as well (didn't want to forget that!) To finish the page, I added personal words of thanks to God for the beauty of the worship space, and a "take-away" at the top which was inspired by the theme words. These "R words" - remember, reflect, reconfirm, renew, rejoice - really caught my attention as they mirror some of the same ideas behind the visual faith theme words of read, reflect, respond - to reach out. I included the date and a note about my husband's uncle, Dr. Paul Maier, who had been called to this church to begin a student ministry at nearby Western Michigan University. It's important to pass down details about the legacy of faith in your family.

Thought-provoking words circled during a prayer within the liturgy were joined with God's Word from the theme verse in Hebrews 12:22 to create a prayer in the margin.

Thought-provoking words circled during a prayer within the liturgy were joined with God's Word from the theme verse in Hebrews 12:22 to create a prayer in the margin.

You can see that the margin might be a place to record the visual blessings of a worship place, the sharing of fellowship within a church family, and words of liturgy and song, as well as God's Word. And as you move through multiple steps of journaling - from "bulletin graffiti", to reflecting on the worship experience, to penciling in the page, to re-writing with pen, and then finally tracing over with colored pencil - you are creating a space of time for the Word to soak into your heart.....so that you remember. And most importantly, so that you can share.                                        -- Pat Maier

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Bible Marginalia- Be My Witnesses

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 Bible Marginalia Series- #292

Acts 1

The promise of the Spirit

and the Ascension of Jesus.

 

This reminds me of early years of parenting 

when you always offered something good

 as something was removed,

or even taken away.

Sort of the same thing when Jesus 

tells the disciples a very good thing

  would be theirs soon.

Right before he goes away.

Can't imagine the sense of BIGNESS-

as Jesus highlights the extent of their job.

"Tell people about me everywhere-

in Jerusalem, 

throughout Judea, in Samaria,

and to the ends of the earth."

YOU will be my witnesses.

Then as Jesus was taken up into a cloud,

they strained to see him and

two white-robed men stood among them.

Maybe the disciples 

were use to seeing angels.

But, I imagine they listened

 carefully anyway.

"Jesus has been taken from you into heaven,

but someday he will return from heaven

 in the same way you saw him go!"

Gift promised to come soon.

They had their marching orders-

be my witnesses.

Same instructions for us-

as we wait-

filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.

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