Get a page of your Bible dirty.
What this looks like for me:
I used to have so many rules about the Bible. Read it regularly. Read all of it, not just the easy parts. Enjoy and feel blessed all those difficult parts without questioning my faith or throwing said Bible against the wall. Also, don’t just read scripture dutifully, but also study it like a seminarian, pray it like Mother Theresa, and apply it to my life like it’s an exfoliating scrub from Goop.
Besides my litany of rules, I suffered trauma in church and elsewhere. Abuse taught me that meeting every expectation and following every rule perfectly was salvation, and anything else might land me in real-or-figurative hell.
So I might have had just the tiniest bit of baggage about Scripture. I believe it’s a holy book, a book that can (and has) changed me. But I hesitated to open the darn thing, much less read it.
Not-reading it brought guilt and shame. Reading it brought on doubts, questions and waves of anxiety—and more shame and guilt. Frankly, I felt like I was stuck in that catch-22 until Jesus rose again.
One day, sick of the vicious circle, I decided to take an old copy of the Bible and make it into an art project. I wanted to enjoy the Bible in a new way, interact with Scripture creatively, and give myself permission to make a mess of something I could barely touch anymore. I gave myself some creative prompts to get started with (with many debts to Kerri Smith of Wreck This Journal). I began adding glitter to pages. Making a pop-up page. Adding doorways and windows in passages. Gluing an articulated doll into the Psalm.
But the prompt that scared me most was getting a page dirty.
When I wrote the prompt idea down, I was thinking outside dirt, dirt that did not seem blasphemous. But as I prepared to actually try the prompt, I realized that actually dirty dirt was, um, more of a bathroom variety.
I cannot get this Bible toilet dirty, I thought. That is not okay.
But I was so tired of feeling fear about doing the Bible wrong that this thought did not immediately stop me from trying it. Why is dirty dirt so scary? I wondered. Maybe I should go in the bathroom and sit with that fear for a while.
I sat on the tile floor, calmed my breath, prayed, and then scraped off some gunk from the inside of my sink. It was dirty-adjacent, but perhaps not blasphemous. I wiped off on Acts 10, where Peter says, “I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” Looking at the scum from my toothbrush there on the page of my Bible, I realized something.
The dirtiest of dirt is human and alive.
Only human being use toilet paper. Only living creatures digest food. And Jesus willingly entered a world of dirty, living humanity, despite all the uncleanliness that comes out of us.
I don’t think I ever have felt so shocked by the incarnation.
Dirty is human—the bathroom dirt, the rotting food kind, and even the dust to which we return outside. It is made of bodies and flaking-off skin cells and the life-giving processes that nourish our insides.
It astonished me that dirt—truly dirty dirt—helped me feel freed of my fear of messing up, falling short, or desecrating Scripture. Scripture is worthy of our awe and respect, but it is possible to idolize it, too. It is possible to feel so dirty we separate ourselves from God. But the foundational truth of Christ is that “God is not far from any one of us,” no matter how unclean we feel.
Bible Art Prompt for Ash Wednesday
Choose a traditional scripture for Ash Wednesday. Here are a few suggestions, from the Book of Common Prayer:
Psalm 103: 8-14
Isaiah 58: 1-12
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
Matthew 6:1-5, 16-21
After reading the passage, pray. Then get that page in the Bible dirty (interpret that however you want).
What emotions, memories, or observations does the passage of scripture bring up?
Do you feel any fears or reservations about dirtying the Bible?
What would it mean to you to not be afraid of the Bible, or of offending God? What would it mean for you to feel at home in the Bible again, (or for the first time?)
How do you wish God would cleanse you today?
Spend a moment in prayer, asking God for saving, cleansing help.
HEATHER CALIRI is a writer and artist from San Diego, whose work has appeared in Relevant.com, ChristianityToday.com, SheLoves Magazine, The Mudroom, and iBelieve. Her devotional, Word Made Art: Lent, is an eight-week creative encounter with Scripture, and is available on Amazon. A Facebook group to experience the devotional in community is available at her website.