Scribing (Part 2 of 3)

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By Joel Shenk

Go to your work, get up, and pray. And go to your work and get up and pray. Then you and your mind will be saved.
— St. Anthony, 3rd Century Egyptian Monk

In my previous post I told the story of how I came to the practice of scribing. In this post I’ll share the nuts and bolts of how I go about doing it. We’ll look at 1) material, 2) version, 3) deciding which books to scribe, and 4) time commitment. For each of these headings there is no right answer, but here are some things that work for me.

Material

I won’t lie. Scribing can be laborious sometimes. It shouldn’t be a chore, but it takes effort and discipline. If you find no joy in it, don’t do it. But to the extent that it does bring joy and does bring meaningful engagement with scripture, you might as well use materials that work well for you and that you enjoy.

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Pen or Pencil: I use pens. I like the feel of pens better and I like the boldness and permanence of the ink. However, I write left-handed. Any lefty will testify to the annoyance of dragging your hand across the page as you write, thus smearing the ink before it dries.

When it comes to scribing, you aren’t jotting down a quick little note. You are writing line after line of text. This can result in lots of smudging, ruining both my page and getting ink all over my hand. I knew this going into it, so I chose a pen that would reduce this potential. Staedtler pigment liners are perfect for me.

The 0.1mm and 0.3mm are so fine that the pigment dries quickly so my hand won’t smudge it. My hand will smudge the 0.5 and 0.7 size. I use thicker tips for chapter headings and the thinner tips for the actual text. 

Notebooks: You can obviously use any kind of tablet you want. I’m partial to Moleskine cashiers collection notebooks, 5 x 8 ¼ ‘’. At 80 pages in length, I was able to fit all of Matthew in one notebook. This may depend on the size of your handwriting. My handwriting is somewhat small, so I was able to make it.

When I started scribing Matthew I gave plenty of margin and began each new verse on a new line. However, at about the midway point I noticed that I had already used over half of the Moleskine. I realized if I kept giving a generous margin and kept starting each new verse on a new line, I wouldn’t make it in one notebook.

So I stopped doing that, and even then had to squeeze my handwriting towards the end, but I made it.

Barely. 

If I would have been using the full line from the beginning, I wouldn’t have had this problem.

Version

The first book I scribed was Revelation in preparation for a sermon series on that book. I scribed Revelation using the NRSV. I chose NRSV because it was the version I knew best, and wanted to reinforce my familiarity with it. After scribing the NRSV, I came to notice how often it uses semicolons and how the sentence structure isn’t the most fluid. I’ve since scribed using NIV and CEB, and use CEB the majority of my time for preaching.

Which books to scribe?

My friend Don challenged me to scribe the first five books of the New Testament, so that’s my current goal. I’ve completed Matthew and am almost done with Mark. After I finish Mark, I plan to scribe 1 and 2 Peter into the same moleskin. It’s said that Mark could have been a disciple of Peter, and so the gospel according to Mark would essentially be the gospel as Peter told it to Mark. I like the idea of scribing all the Petrine scriptures together. Plus, it will break up the repetitiveness of scribing gospel stories.

After Mark and 1 and 2 Peter, I’ll skip Luke to go to John. After the gospel according to John, I’ll likewise go on to the letters of John. And since I have already scribed Revelation, then I will have scribed the entire Johannine corpus.

Finally, I’ll finish up with Luke-Acts, without interruption, since, after all, Luke wrote them as two parts of one overarching story.

Time commitment

Scribing takes time. Remember, it’s slow-cooker not microwave formation. I was gung-ho when I scribed Revelation. At 22 chapters, I finished it in a month. My goal was to scribe an entire chapter per day, which would take about 30-45 minutes.

When I got to Matthew, the novelty of scribing wore off. Like running a marathon, I started off strong, and then hit a wall that I had to push through. I also no longer had time to scribe a chapter per day, so I started scribing one or two sections instead. I started scribing Matthew on November 1, 2017 and finished it on February 4, 2018.

I began Mark on February 6, and so far am in chapter 13. Hopefully I’ll finish John over the summer. Luke in the fall, and then Acts next winter.

Scribing takes time, but I find it to be a joy-filled process. The rule of thumb with scribing is that it must bring joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, not frustration, monotony, or boredom. So find materials you enjoy using, decide on a version of scripture you like, develop a plan, set some goals, and you may experience scribing as a fruitful way to engage scripture.

In my next post, I’ll reflect on some of the fruit that I’ve seen born as a result of scribing.

Joel Shenk has been serving as pastor at Toledo Mennonite Church since October 2010.  He lives with his wife and two daughters in Toledo. You will often find them as regulars at the Toledo Farmer’s Market, SIP Coffee, and any number of our wonderful local library branches. 

Pastor Joel graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary. He loves reading and talking about the church and mission (both local and global) and is inspired by the good news of the Kingdom of God that Jesus preached.  Lately, he also has been exploring the practice of contemplative prayer.