Creative Ways of Being with God’s Word
We can admit it. We’ve all been guilty of letting our eyes read verse after verse of Scripture but all the time, our minds are elsewhere. Understandably, we pass through seasons when reading the Bible is a dry exercise, devoid of passion and focus.
How can we run out of this rut? How can we make reading the Bible more engaging? One way is to pursue “being” with God’s Word rather than simply reading it. The Word, after all, was made flesh in Christ Jesus. Because we love the One who loves us most, we want to be with Him.
The beauty of living with Christ is that the whole of our being is woven with Him. No part of us, no aspect of our lives is beyond Jesus’ love and care. When we are truly in union with Jesus, we worship Him with all of who we are. We feel His presence through all of our senses. Isn’t the Bible full of different ways of perceiving and praising God? “Oh, taste and see… (Psalm 34:8).” “That which… we have heard… we have seen… we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life (1 John 1:1).”
God crafted us not simply to be sentient beings but also to be imaginative and creative. All of us can create and enjoy the arts. This is not purely self-serving. God is delighted when we take delight in His creation.
The world we live in, Dallas Willard wrote, “is a world filled with a glorious reality, where every component is within the range of God’s direct knowledge and control—though he obviously permits some of it, for good reasons, to be for a while otherwise than as he wishes. It is a world that is inconceivably beautiful and good because of God and because God is always in it.”
We can enjoy the world and see its beauty be it a bright or dark one. When we read the Bible, why don’t we step out of the box we sometimes put ourselves in? Here are some ways we can creatively be with God’s Word:
Read the passage in your mother tongue or own language. Usually, I read the Bible in English but when I read Bible verses in Tagalog, the words truly speak to my heart. Relish the beauty of Psalm 42:1–2 in the Magandang Balita Biblia translation:
Kung paanong batis ang siyang hanap ng isang usa;
gayon hinahanap ang Diyos ng uhaw kong kaluluwa.
Nananabik ako sa Diyos, sa Diyos na buháy, walang iba;
kailan kaya maaaring sa presensya mo'y sumamba?
Listen to Bible verses in a foreign language. Imagine how it will be like in heaven, hearing every tongue acknowledging that Jesus is Lord. After reading a passage in the language you use, why not listen to the verse spoken in a foreign language? You can listen to various audio Bibles at Biblegateway.com.
Read a contemporary-language translation. Have you read the New Testament Pinoy Version? The text uses a mix of two languages: Tagalog and English. Reading this translation is like listening to a friend. It makes you smile.
Countless times, the “street language” of The Message has helped me get to grips with a deeply theological point better than the standard translations. Poetic, colorful, and raw Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible will surprise you; its directness will convict you. Read James 4:7–10,
So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.
Read the Bible aloud. Reading verses aloud is especially helpful when we’re feeling sluggish or discouraged. Hearing our own voices utter Bible verses can enliven our weary bodies and spirits.
Read verses as words in a prayer. When our spirits groan but we do not have the words to say, we can read Bible verses as prayers. Consider praying many of the psalms, the Sermon on the Mount, the song of Mary, the Lord’s Prayer, the Lamentations, the call for repentance in the books by the Minor Prophets, among many other passages.
Stand up. Feeling sleepy while reading? Stand up. You also burn more calories when you’re standing up than when you’re sitting down.
Find a nook where you can have peace and privacy. Decorate the area with objects that are special to you. Add a vase of plants. Seeing something green is relaxing plus plants clean the air. As we notice the plant growing, at times, shedding a dried leaf or two, we are reminded of the Creator and how He makes “everything beautiful in its time.”
Follow a routine. Performing some kind of ceremony before reading your Bible can help set an atmosphere for worship. For example, a friend starts his Quiet Time by laying on the table a beautiful woven cloth. On it, he rests his Bible. He then lights a candle to symbolize the light of God’s Word.
Go out of the house. At times, a change of venue can make a change in perspective.
Journal. The Lord speaks to us through the Bible. When you hear a word from Him, write it down before the busyness of the day steals it from you. If you’re using a print Bible, you may opt to highlight passages or write notes on the margins.
Watch animated videos by The Bible Project. The site offers overviews of Bible books and themes using visual storytelling. The videos are easy to understand and interesting to watch.
Respond to the passage you read by being creative. There are many ways we can draw near to God—write a poem, do calligraphy, play a musical instrument, sing, doodle, dance, or even cook! Engaging in the arts is good for the body, too. When we create, perform, or appreciate the arts, the “happy chemicals” in our brain such as serotonin increase. These chemicals improve our mood and sense of well-being.
Listen to music. Play instrumental or ambient music while reading the Bible. If having music on is distracting, you can listen to music after reading a passage. Listen to a song or hymn that echoes the message of the verses you read.
Personally, I do not limit myself to the “Christian music” genre. There are many songs out there that powerfully address the human condition. When Patti Smith sang “Gloria,” she could very well be singing for the woman caught in adultery and condemned to stoning by the Pharisees. Listen again to “Under Pressure” written by Queen and David Bowie. Pay attention to the lyrics. Albeit unwittingly, the song imparts the biblical message of daring to “care for the people on the edge of the night.”
Read poetry. As with listening to music, reading a poem can cast iridescent light on our engagement with Scriptures. As with music too, there is much to gain when we enjoy literature written by a wide range of writers.
“Du, Nachbar Gott… (You, Neighbor God…),” Rainer Maria Rilke began this part of his poem. In my teens, these words jolted me. Rilke spoke to me of a familiarity with God which back then I thought was not possible. Here’s a translation by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy:
You, God, who live next door–
If at times, through the long night, I trouble you
with my urgent knocking–
this is why: I hear you breathe so seldom.
I know you’re all alone in that room.
If you should be thirsty, there’s no one
to get you a glass of water.
I wait listening, always. Just give me a sign!
I’m right here.
View visual art. Be it a painting, a print, a photograph, a film, or a sculpture, visual arts can accompany our Bible reading. After reading the parable of prodigal son, you may reflect on Rembrandt’s paintings on The Prodigal Son. Danish painter Carl Heinrich Bloch did a series of paintings on the life of Jesus Christ. These paintings could accompany you as you read the Gospels. As a prelude to prayer, you may look at Albrecht Durer’s Praying Hands.
Visual arts have the power to draw us to Christ even if the work’s subject or theme is not religious. Consider the enigmatic Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth. Looking at this painting, “my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Psalm 84:2).
“Observing creation, listening for whispers of God’s voice or trying to put your finger on His pulse, absorbing the marvels of His world—” writes Chris Tiegreen, “are means to become more aware of His Presence. When we notice these things, and especially when they spark a conversation with Him, we are drawing close to God.”
I would caution though on hastily interpreting experiences and ascribing meanings. As in all of life, we need discernment. The Bible reads us first. It judges the thoughts and actions of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12).
Let’s enjoy being with God’s Word.
Joanna Nicolas-Na has written two activity books for children, Bible ABC Coloring Book and Bible People Old Testament Activity Book. Both books are illustrated by her husband Nixon Na and published by Hiyas, the children’s book imprint of OMF Literature. She and her family enjoy going to museums, galleries, and exhibits. Joanna used to be a volunteer docent at the Metropolitan Museum in Manila.