Mark Twain

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A man once told me that he believes every word in the bible. I was struck dumb with amazement.

He
Believes
Every word
in the bible

There is no part of that statement that makes sense to me. He might as well have described the secret contents of every woman’s heart or the sharp edge of every child’s pain. He could have been explaining a unified theory of everything or summarizing the federal budget on his thumbnail for all I knew.

He? Him? One person? One man makes this claim? One man has seen these words, felt them, breathed them, fought with them, cried over them, been broken by them? One man knows their story and can piece together their ancient context? One man understands the grace behind the surprising progression of these words across the Testaments?

Believes? Who can understand the meaning behind that word? Is there a vocabulary that can communicate the soul-jarring collision that occurs when emotion meets intellect and intuition struggles against wisdom? Is there a language that can describe this leap of faith, this heroic standing in the gap, this tragic and joyful commitment of belief that is, in the end, the only thing we have to offer the Creator?

Every word in the bible? Every word in each of these sixty-six books? I’m rightly impressed when I hear that someone has read the bible, much less claimed to know it and believe it. How does he hold all of that information in his mind at any given moment? Did his attention never waiver, not even when he read the genealogies? Did his eyes not grow heavy when Job and his accusing friends droned on and on? Is he a man, or some sort of reading, knowing, and believing machine?

He believes every word in the bible.

Surely this is some sort of marketing slogan meant only to advertise his self-image and his perceived place in the world.

“Stand aside, for I am a man who believes every word in the bible!”

Once I too dreamed that I might know every word of the bible. I hoped to pilot my ship across the surface of its troubled waters and know every bend and horseshoe bay. I wanted to drop a sounding line and call out its depth to my friends.

“Mark one!”

“Quarter one!”

“Half one!”

“Mark twain!”

But the sounding cry came from the heavens, and it was my own life that was measured and my own life that was known. And each time I am measured, I become a little smaller and a little less sure of myself.

I am now convinced that there is no end to these twisting waters. I will not master this river, neither its depths nor its ways. And now that I have as many years behind me as ahead of me, I have taken my pipe and seated myself by the captain’s stove to have a smoke and consider these things.

I have had to make some adjustments to my expectations.

So if not the whole bible, perhaps I could know the New Testament and come to understand the foundations of the Christian faith. And if the New Testament is too much to fathom, then maybe I could know the gospel stories of Jesus. And if not the gospels, then how about Matthew? And if not Matthew, then surely the sermon on the mount could be known. And if not the sermon, then at least the beatitudes. And if not the beatitudes, then I would like to know the first beatitude.

I would like to know what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

I would like to know poverty of Spirit, for poverty is all I am left with. I would like the courage to be made poor before the shattering depth of the Creator and alongside the unthinkable breadth of humanity. Spiritual poverty is all I ask for now, and it is more than I can handle.

My God, Thou hast given me only one lifetime and half of it is already gone.

Mark twain. I am hoping for safe passage.

rlp

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