Handling God’s Word—Literally

One of the reasons I love Lectio Divina is the oral nature of the Scripture. The Bible was meant to be heard, and I love the way the Word feels on my tongue. (Revelation 10:9)

But handwriting the Scriptures will cause you to linger over a phrase longer than you might if you just read the same phrase aloud. Maybe just long enough to sense something the Holy Spirit wants to reveal to you. Instead of hurrying over familiar texts, this method of “sacred reading” will cause you to feel the words through your fingertips. (Galatians 6:11) I have come to call the practice, “Scriptio Divina.”

 What to expect:

1.     Expect the process will be slow.

Hand copying is intended to be slow. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. When we read, we often read quickly, as if we are driving. But the whole goal of hand copying is to slow us down to a “walking pace” through Scripture. Don’t rush. Take your time and learn to enjoy the journey more than the destination. The goal is not to check the box that you completed the book; it’s to engage deeply in the Scriptures to see what the Holy Spirit might want to teach us about God’s story through the redeeming work of Christ.

2.     Expect to see details that you’ve never noticed before.

Seeing details, elements of dialog, and/or additional elements of a story you might have read before is common with hand copying. As I engage with this I continually find myself thinking, “Wow, I never noticed that before!” I also find myself asking questions about the text for the first time, oftentimes catching myself mid-sentence thinking “I wonder why…” or “Could it be that…” I personally found the repetitive use of a semicolon to be incredibly irritating. (But I am grumpy that way.)

3.     Expect your hand to cramp up from time to time.

It’s okay. It happens. In the digital age, we’re not used to handwriting so much. Just take a break and start again tomorrow.

4.     Expect God to meet you on this journey.

This has become one of the most important ways I encounter God in Scripture. Jesus meets me in this process is powerful – and oftentimes unexpected – ways. Expect him to meet you in this experience as well.

Practical tips:

1.     Decide on a translation of your choice. Some people choose a translation they are familiar with; others choose a new translation so they can “hear” Scripture differently than they are used to. Whatever you choose, just stick with your translation all the way through.

2.     Start with a fresh notebook. When I start a new project, I like to have a fresh journal or notebook. Several asked me what notebooks I use. You can use whatever notebook or journal you want.

3.     Choose a pen or mechanical pencil you like. For some, any old pen will do. I use a high-quality mechanical pencil .07 grade lead. I also use a separate retractable eraser. I always mess up what I am doing and so I like to erase the mistake and get it right. The eraser that comes with the pencil wears out too quickly for me.

4.     Make a grace-filled commitment to write out ten verses a day. Just ten. Some people get overwhelmed and discouraged because they make a commitment to do a chapter a day or five chapters a week. That’s a lot! Take your time, slow down, and enjoy the journey. If you do less than ten verses a day, that’s fine. If you end up doing more than ten, that’s fine, too.

5.     Find a dedicated place and time each day. I like to hand copy each morning, right after I make my coffee. I do it either in my reading chair or, when the weather is nice, outside on the deck. Having a grace-filled rhythm helps me engage with it more easily on a daily basis.

6.     Invite others to join you. It’s more fun to take a journey with others. Why not invite friends, neighbors, people from church, and/or family members to join you (in person or online)? It can add another rich layer to experiencing God’s Word.

7.     Before you begin each time, say a simple, heartfelt prayer. I usually whisper a short and simple prayer: “Lord, teach me something new today.” I am not doing this simply to write out the book; I want to encounter the living God through His living Word. I want to make sure I am centered and oriented with an openness to receive from Him as he speaks to me through the process. Consider a simple prayer of humility, anticipation, and openness to the Lord meeting you in the process as you begin each day.

8.     Find – and settle into – your own hand copying “personality.” Each one of us will find we have our own hand copying rhythm and process. It took me a bit to figure mine out, but I learned that I write best when I move through the text phrase by phrase. I say each phrase out loud…and then copy it down. Then I say the next phrase aloud…and copy it down. This is what works for me, but find what pace, rhythm, and style works for you.

A Final Word:

The pressure’s off. You don’t have to have beautiful penmanship. You don’t even have to have a perfect script. The purpose is not perfection or legibility, but engagement.

You can start small if you wish. If you want to start smaller, consider starting with a shorter book – maybe Ruth, Jonah, James, 1, 2, 3 John, or Jude. I started with Philippians and found it to be so invigorating that I decided to do the Gospels next. As of this date, I have hand-copied Matthew, Mark, and Luke and am currently beginning chapter six of John. (see the picture below from this morning)

A surprising benefit: I have three adult sons. I am hand copying the entire New Testament in a leather-bound sketchbook–one for each son to be given to them when I pass from this life to the next. A friend of mine is going to do this for his two young children to be given to them upon their graduation or on the day they get married. Be creative with what you might do with your copy.

Or give it to no one. Let it be a secret discipline between you and the original Author.

Whatever you do, remember this is God’s Word—His life-giving and accessible gift given for us to encounter, understand, and join Him. He wants us to participate in His over-arching story of compassion to redeem, renew, restore, and reconcile humanity back to Himself through the person of Jesus Christ. So, don’t be surprised if you are swept up into this story.

Expect God to show up in beautiful and surprising ways as you journey through the book that we love.

About Joe Chambers

I am the beloved of the Most High God. I am an avid reader and writer and have been a continuous learner since my college studies in Ancient Literature and English. I live at the base of Mount Princeton in the Colorado Rockies with my wife of over three decades. I believe I have been put here to tell people that God is not mad at them and to show them the way Home. I am the father of three sons, three beautiful daughters-in-law and four grandchildren. I love to read, tell stories, and spend time in the wilderness.
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