A special discount for the ESV Illuminated Bible is graciously available free to Christ and Pop Culture members through February 28, 2018, through our partnership with Crossway.

During my college years, I carried a small pocket-sized New Testament in my book bag. It would often entice me away from the other books in my bag, providing a glorious diversion from studies into this new faith that had changed me, inside and out. Since everything was new to me in regard to Christianity, every passage I read wowed me. Blue ink covered every page, underlined words and phrases, microscopic notes fit into scant white space. I was at home in those pages.

Our members get a discount this month on the ESV Illuminated Bible from Crossway.

It’s been years since I’ve used (or even opened) that New Testament. But something about the way I engaged with those pages has bound my heart to it. If I close my eyes, I can imagine myself at the university library, pen in hand, marking each bite that was feeding my soul. I don’t have a photographic memory, by any means, but I tend to associate favorite words and phrases from the books I read with where they are located on the page—right page or left, top or bottom. Interacting with words, marking them with a pen, adding a note for context—all this helped me to digest the feast and gain ongoing nourishment. Such experiences echo within a report by NPR about a research study looking at the connection between strength of memory and note-taking methods, either by hand or by laptop. Results were clear:

But the students taking notes by hand still performed better. “This is suggestive evidence that longhand notes may have superior external storage as well as superior encoding functions,” Mueller and Oppenheimer write.

Although my markings were not really “longhand notes,” I think the principle holds true: pen and paper interaction with ideas or a text enhances memory (storage) and cognitive processing (encoding).

Therefore, the way we interact with scriptures affects how we remember and process them. Finding a Bible that maximizes such interactions, then, is worth the effort. Enter the ESV Illuminated Bible from Crossway, released in October 2017:

[It] places the full ESV text alongside over 500 elegantly hand-lettered gold ink illustrations by renowned artist Dana Tanamachi. Printed on thick cream-colored paper, the Bible’s single-column text setting and wide margins provide generous space for additional notes, prayers, and designs—inviting readers to creatively engage with and reflect on the beauty of God’s Word.

That sounds like the sort of design that would enhance memory and cognitive processing of God’s Word. I found the gold-ink illustrations to be absolutely lovely. The layout is meant to invite journaling and note-taking—as well as additional letter art and doodling, although the pages are so lovely (and my artistic abilities nonexistent), I cannot imagine being brave enough to do so.

I’m sure some people find the notion of an art journaling Bible—with its ornate illustrated pages and pre-printed verses in the margins—to be a sign of the coming apocalypse, but I found the illustrations pointed me to a sort of high-church beauty that’s often lacking in my (our?) church and spiritual experiences. Fine art used to be a high value among the faithful, with the church commissioning the production of paintings, murals, sculptures, and architecture that elevates the way we worship and practice our faith. Our modern-day churches are certainly plain compared to churches of old, especially those designed during the Renaissance. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel murals or Ghiberti’s gold doors do wonders for ushering us into the divine. And so, a Bible full of artistic detail and gold ink can also awaken our senses to the divine in new ways, just as beauty has done throughout the centuries.

That’s something we all could use a bit more of, I’d say.