A word came out, one that I hadn’t heard before: marginalia. 

I was listening to an interview with Maria Popova from the website Brain Pickings. She told the story of the books her grandfather owned, and how the early editions were interesting but most interesting details on each page were the handwritten notes penned by her grandfather. 

These were ancient texts, with less ancient commentary, read by an immediate author. 

I’m beginning to see, especially in our charged and aggressive media climate, how much the economy of words matter.

The ones we choose to use because we know they will find their target, the arrow will strike home.

There are the ones we use like a shepherd, with the soft hands of a mother that tenderly and gently call out and soothe the wounds of the hearer.

There are words of familiarity, inside jokes and liberties we take with words because we’ve built the trust to take the liberties. 

Mix those categories and we find ourselves in an aching space, calling good “evil” and truth “lies.” Or vice versa. 

Yet at the same time it is all marginalia. We write words beside the words that we read. We comment, we interpret, and we internalize. 

Our life is lived in the white spaces of other texts - the language of our own history, narrative, race, society and culture. We make commentary. 

Life is in a sense midrash - a word for the Jewish work of interpreting the sacred, making commentary on the texts that shape and form who we are and why we are. 

All of life is marginalia. 
All of life is midrash.
It matters what we write in the margins. 

One of my favorite books in our library is in duplicate. We have two copies of Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved. One edition, mine, has various chicken scratch notes and underlines, stars and markings. 

Holley’s copy, on the other hand, is magical. She spent immense amounts of time as she walked through the pages creating swirls, buttons, diamonds and designs that fill the margins with beauty. Reading a beautiful text she rendered beautiful marks. 

All of life is marginalia.
It is all interpretation and internalization of what we hear - midrash
It matters what we draw in the margins. 

Transformation is rooted in the sacred texts - first Scripture, but also T.S. Eliot, Dostoevsky, Wendell Berry, on and on they go. But it is always in the margins. The white space. That’s where we live. 

Transformation is also rooted in the documents we are given. The job offer letters, the marriage licenses, the birth certificates and death certificates. Those texts are part of us too. 

The scratchy, musty book of our family tree and the yellowing photo albums (soon to be relics themselves) are texts we live by. 

Today, we know this - all of life is marginalia. 
We are living notes on the edges of the texts we live by and through and with. 
It matters what we draw in the margins. 

So interpret your life today through the various texts that are active in you story. 

Write in the margins, know your story alongside of them, and know that it matters more than you could imagine.

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