Elvis wrote in the margins of his Bible.
Wouldn't you love to see a few of his margin notes?
In 1957, Elvis received a new Bible for Christmas from his Uncle Vester and Aunt Clettes. One margin note offers a glimpse into his personal prayer life: There is a season for everything. Patience will reward you and reveal all answers to your questions.
After discovering the margin notes in a congregation member's Bible after his untimely death nearly five years ago, I've been fascinated by the margins of our Bibles. Each margin note reveals a particular season, a prayer for patience, a hope for revelation, and always, questions longing for answers.
Perhaps you've heard it said, "Dirty Bible, clean heart." As I've explored the margins of our Bibles, I've learned that faithful living is never that simple. But there is something about the prayers and revelations in those edges of the page that reveal seasoned hearts.
Dennis shows me Psalm 23 with all the personal pronouns scratched out and plural pronouns added. He tells me about a long night in prison and a dream of his grandmother. He remembered praying Psalm 23 with her as a kid. He woke up that night, scratched out the "my" and wrote in the "our" so he could pray the Psalm like this, "The Lord is OUR shepherd, WE shall not want. He makes US to lie down in still pastures." His margins reveal the presence and prayer of his grandmother.
Ebenezer shows me Psalm 92:12, "The righteous will flourish like a palm tree," with the names of his children written in the margin. He tells me about praying for his children, far from his home in Ghana where palm trees on every corner are common. "This is my prayer for them," he says. His margins reveal his roots and his hopes that his children will flourish.
Renee shows me her college Bible and turns to Exodus 14:13-14, where Moses tells the people not to be afraid. Here she wrote, "prescription for an unexpected life." Her margins reveal adolescent hope and an engagement with the Bible that promises a life of faithful adventure.
Maybe I would modify "Dirty Bible, Clean Heart" to say "Scribbled Bibles, Seasoned Hearts." And I'd wonder if that mysterious moment in John 8 when Jesus scribbled in the sand, wasn't perhaps a minute when Jesus needed to compose his reaction to a difficult situation by reflecting on a biblical text -- even if that meant scribbling in the sand. Maybe he even wrote something in the vein of Elvis' prayer: Patience will reward you and reveal all answers to your questions.
I would love to know how you interact with your margins. Do you pray? Lament? Laugh? Doodle? Jot? Remember? Scribble? Compose yourself? Do you reflect on the seasons of your life? Remember your grandmother? Pray for your children? Look to God for adventures in that unexpected life of faith?
I'd love to hear how you pray in your margins because I believe Karl Barth might adjust his famous adage of "praying with the Bible in one hand and newspaper in the other" if he lived in the 21st century. Our news is presented 24/7. The world and its prayers are as close as our iPhones and Twitter feeds. If anything we need a moment of reprieve, not to ignore the needs of the world, but to compose ourselves to respond. The margins offer a place to do just that. Perhaps Karl Barth might suggest we pray by taking the Bible in one hand and a pen in the other, that would be revolutionary in this day and age where the Bible is digital and pens are minimal. This, unbelievable to Karl Barth in his day, where now it is counter-cultural to put pen to paper and to pray.
In this day and age, I wonder if the margins are a place our all too divided world might get on the same page when liberal and conservative alike go to the Bible to find answer to those questions we all share, even Elvis himself.
Last week was the 71st anniversary of National Bible Week begun in 1941 by the National Bible Association. The day the program was announced, Dec. 7, 1941, was the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. That day, more than almost any, many seasoned hearts needed a place to discern, to lament, to pray. I hope that day with the invitation offered by the National Bible Association those who mourned found solace in Scripture. Perhaps even in those quiet edges of the page that offer a place for silent prayer and reflection, someone wrote a prayer.
There is a season for everything. As this season of Thanksgiving and its corresponding National Bible Week unfolds, what have you learned about the seasons of your life in the margins of your Bible?