Reading a familiar passage of Scripture in a different translation than what you are used to can make it seem fresh and alive. I remember reading books by J.B. Phillips and being amazed how the verses he quoted – in his own translation – seemed so relevant to me, in a way that they did not when I read them in my usual translation. (And my usual translation at the time was the NIV, which had the same effect as Phillips’ translation the first time I read it.)
For a really fresh look, take a look at a graphic designer’s interpretation of Scripture – in graphic form, of course. In Jim LePage’s blog post on “An Idiot’s Guide to Reading the Bible,” he explains how he came to start his Word project, in which he creates a design for each book of the Bible. The designs aren’t intended to represent the entire book, just some aspect of it that particularly struck him.
I don’t know much about graphic design (except that I would be no good at it), but from what I’ve seen of LePage’s work, I’m impressed. I’ve always liked to draw, and as a child thought I might like to be an artist. In middle school my pen and ink drawings were good enough to be displayed in a townwide school art show at the library. But when I took an art class my freshman year of high school, I quickly realized how limited my imagination was.
I could do a realistic drawing pretty well, at least of inanimate objects. But when it came to trying to create a composition of anything beyond what was sitting in front of me, I felt like I hit a brick wall. When an assignment called for deliberately combining things that did not normally belong together, and in total disregard for their relative size, I felt completely stuck. I finally managed to make a faucet with a drop coming out of it that was cut from a picture in a magazine, a picture of some people, I think. The teacher praised me for the progress I had made, but that was about as far as I got.
At camp a couple of years later (I was part of the teenage staff, not a camper), I volunteered to help make some posters. After all, I had always had a steady hand, and I was at least average in creativity if not by any means a true artist. Then I discovered that someone else on staff (one of the few who was not a teenager) was actually a graphic artist. I watched the easy way she combined colors and shapes in a striking manner, and realized I had little to offer except a steady hand.
I get something of the same feeling looking at Jim LePage’s work – but more so. Some of the designs don’t look like it took a lot of technical skill to put them together, but coming up with the idea in the first place is the key. One of my favorites is his image for 2 Samuel, which is even more impressive once I read the accompanying blog post which explains it.
There are only three elements, really, to the design, two partial photographs (at least that’s what they look like to me, and others of his designs clearly incorporate photos), and a set of words used twice. It’s the choice of images, though, the colors, and the way they are positioned that conveys the message. Even the large blank areas are significant, because they help direct the eye to the parts of the design that matter.
Another of my favorites is his representation of Ecclesiastes. Even if I had come up with the excellent idea LePage has for the winding line from birth to death, I’d have probably used a solid black background. But the seemingly random strokes/splotches of shades of gray enhance the image considerably.
His design for Amos isn’t one of my favorites, but the blog post that accompanies it is great. His manner will strike some as irreverent (I think he uses that word himself), but his directness about how strange the Bible seems sometimes is part of what helps the viewer/reader to see things in a fresh way. If you’ve read a Bible story dozens or even hundreds of times, it’s hard to see it as someone would hearing it the first time – as the people did who experienced it themselves.
Like LePage, I find it difficult to maintain the discipline of daily Bible reading. For a while, I’m eager. Then I’m dutiful. Then I push myself to get through it and the words barely make it off the page. Then I take a “short” break (which always ends up being longer), promising myself I’ll come up with a better approach that will get me more connected with what I’m reading.
Lately I’ve been reading Chapters into Verse, a book that goes through the Bible book by book, showing first a passage of Scripture then one or more poems that are based on it or at least allude to it. It’s a refreshingly different way to read Scripture, for me, and the poems sometimes provide a very different perspective on a familiar passage.
I’ve thought of trying to write some poems myself, based on Scripture passages that intrigue me. My efforts at versification, however, will probably fall as far short of the poetry I’ve been reading (the editors point out that they only included poems that have true literary value, not that are valued primarily for their devotional aspect) as my sketches would compared to Jim LePage’s designs.
But that’s not the point. My goal is to find a way to connect with and interact with the passages rather than just reading them. If I like one well enough, though, I’ll probably put it in a blog post.