Bible Converts Words into 'Experience'; Calligraphy and Imagery Combine to Create Visual Experience of Scripture

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Byline: Jeff Brumley

To some it may look simply like a really big Bible, printed with a fancy font and illustrated with biblical scenes and symbols.

But "The St. John's Bible" is way more than that, according to those who have seen - or, as some say, experienced - the handmade, 1,150-page book.

"This is not to be confused with a picture Bible, and it's not an illustrated Bible," said Tim Ternes, the director of the seven-volume document. Large reproductions of it will be the focus of a lecture and guided reflection led by Ternes on Saturday in Jacksonville.

"It's a pairing of word and image that [adds] a sensory experience" to the contemplation of Scripture, Ternes said.

"Illuminated Bible" is the technical term for that, said the Rev. Paul Hooker, who leads the Presbytery of St. Augustine, which is co-hosting the event. The cost is $20 for early registration and $25 at the door.

"By bringing artwork to the text, you bring light to it, you have illumined the mind and you are preparing the mind to experience the text," Hooker said. Its calligraphy "is sufficiently unfamiliar that it makes you slow down ... so you're not just roaring through it."

That experience inspired John Ragsdale when he first saw parts of the original at St. John's Abbey in Minnesota, which commissioned the work in 1998 as a way to celebrate the new millennium. Six of its volumes have been printed in coffee table format and the final one is to be completed this year.

Ragsdale later arranged to have the opening pages of the four Gospels framed and hung on the wall of a meditation and meeting room at the presbytery's Jacksonville office, where he is the mission's coordinator. He joined with the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, Grace Episcopal Church and Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church to coordinate Saturday's "Day of Immersion" at Riverside Presbyterian Church.

The idea of using art to contemplate Scripture is nothing new, Ragsdale said. …


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