Word Made Art: A New Way of Approaching Scripture

Updated Feb 16, 2018
Word Made Art: A New Way of Approaching Scripture
I’d always felt afraid of reading the Bible wrong, afraid of angering God with my outsized emotions and pesky doubts. Art, on the other hand, was open-ended, creative, and had no rules. Maybe art could make me feel at home in the Word again.

The Bible is an incredibly important part of our faith. It’s the source of our best information about Jesus, God’s movement through the world, and the ethics and habits of mind that shape us into the people God created us to be. Because of all of this, I feel ashamed to admit the Bible overwhelms me. It’s long, many passages are tedious (I’m looking at you, Leviticus), and it’s not exactly ‘seeker-sensitive.’ I’ve read it through several times—and every time, the sheer weight of that many pages, that many chapters, that many verses to read felt like drinking from a fire hose.

Because of that, I once assumed I was a terrible Christian if I had any questions, qualms, or quibbles with God’s word.

God’s Compassion for Our Doubts

But Jesus had compassion for those who doubted. Consider his treatment of Peter, who denied him before the crucifixion, or Thomas, who questioned his resurrection. Consider how he healed of the son of the man who cried out, “I believe, help thou my unbelief.”

I had fraught feelings about God’s Word in part because I’d experienced spiritual abuse. Afterwards, my anxious, perfectionistic faith often led me deeper into despair instead of freeing me from shame. I blamed myself for my ‘laziness’ or ‘faithlessness’ about Bible reading when I might have found comfort in scripture instead.

Twenty years later, I still had trouble opening up the Bible. My brain knew God loved me, that engaging with the Bible was important, but my heart whispered, beware.

A New Way of Approaching Scripture

An art project was a last-ditch attempt to experience the Bible in a new way. I’d always felt afraid of reading the Bible wrong, afraid of angering God with my outsized emotions and pesky doubts. Art, on the other hand, was open-ended, creative, and had no rules. Maybe art could make me feel at home in the Word again.  I honestly didn’t know if it would work. I’d decided to cut a hole in my Bible as part of an art project I called Word Made Art. I came up with fifty-two art prompts, like cutting windows in pages, making pop-up art, turning verse underlines into a maze, and repurposing an old newspaper to decorate a page.

The day I cut the first hole into my Bible, I expected to feel guilty. I expected to feel rebellious. I expected that the anxiety about reading Scripture that had hounded me for years would rear its ugly head. But what I actually felt really surprised me: protectiveness.

When I cut a hole in the Bible, I had a hard time deciding where to cut. The Psalms were out—I loved them too much. Ditto Isaiah, or even the other prophets; their singing about justice had started resonating in my brain. I couldn’t touch the New Testament; it was much too short and important.

When I balked about making the cut, I realized I actually loved God’s Word.

And the hole? I decided to make a hidey-hole—gluing some of the pages together to make a block, and then carving out a shallow indentation. Later, I’d consider what to hide there—finally deciding on mustard seeds.

Honoring God with More than Our Intellect

For years, my go-to way of engaging with the Bible was to read and study it. I observed, interpreted and found life applications in the verses. I attended Bible studies, I underlined, and if it were a word, I would have concordanced.

Yet reading and study, although laudable, is only one way God finds us.

A few years ago, for instance, I stumbled across some songs setting scripture to music. The songs became joyful companions; they eased my anxiety, helped me remember God’s presence, and brought me into dancing worship in the middle of the day.

Similarly, when I cut the edges of a section of Isaiah, then painting them in bright watercolor, I could visualize the beauty of the God’s promise.

Engaging God’s Word with my mind is wonderful, but involving my heart and body changes everything.

God Blesses Desperation

I once thought the pinnacle of Christian achievement was being a typical Christian. I assumed that if I could easily do all the Christian ‘best practices’ (church attendance, scripture study, keeping a prayer journal) things were fine. I assumed any ambivalence about those practices were big problems.

But I don’t think God wants us to be normal Christians. I think He values desperate yearning instead.

In the Beatitudes, I hear Jesus telling me to get weirder, wilder, and more eager: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…Blessed are those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

These aren’t verses describing people with tidy, easy spiritual routines. These are people crying out in desperation.

My spiritual poverty does not disqualify me from God’s embrace. On the contrary, I can depend on Jesus’ meeting me right at the heart of my greatest failures.

King of the Unexpected

Here’s what I love about Jesus: He’s king of the unexpected. The King comes to his kingdom in a stable; his earthly reign involves dusty roads and betrayal, and his glory comes while nailed to a cross. As Lent approaches, I want to allow Christ to surprise me with his transformative power.

I once struggled to engage with Scripture because I was afraid of doing it wrong. But cutting a hole in my Bible freed me from that fear. I’ve realized that making an unholy mess of my Bible taps right into the upside-down logic that Jesus so wisely brought to earth. It’s by admitting our dark emotions, involving our whole selves, and naming our desperation out loud that we invite the healing of the King.

Heather Caliri is a writer and shy artist from San Diego who uses tiny, joyful yeses to free herself from anxiety. Her writing has appeared at Christianity Today's blog, iBelieve, SheLoves Magazine, The Mudroom, and Relevant.com. Her new devotional, Word Made Art: Lent, prompts you to cut, color, paste and glitter your way through an old Bible before Easter. She lives close to a library with her husband and two daughters.