On Monday I begin my Italian Long Sword class. You know, like Aragorn’s sword from Lord of the Rings? Yeah, I get to learn how to use one of those. I happen to have an Excalibur King Arthur sword hanging out in my closet. I cannot tell you how long ago it all started, but something about the long sword has always ignited my imagination.
When I was younger, like in the fifth grade or so, I started reading Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, but I didn’t start with Redwall; I started with Martin the Warrior. And in that novel you learn how Martin’s sword – the sword of Redwall Abbey (the Warrior’s sword) – came into the scene.
To summarize, Martin is a teenage warrior mouse captured by Badrang the Tyrant and enslaved within his fortress. Martin’s first sign of resistance appears when an elderly mouse is being whipped repeatedly because she wasn’t doing her work. After several lashes, the whip came back again, but didn’t lash the elderly mouse; Martin had seized it in his little teenage paw. He beat down that slave driver and proceeded to take on anyone else that came his way, which ultimately ended with him being hung up between two poles by his wrists and ankles on the western wall of Badrang’s fortress so that he’d get a full dose of the coastal storm heading their way. Martin would eventually find a way to escape, raise an army, and return to bring down the fortress and retrieve the one thing Badrang had stolen from him: his father’s sword.
For almost any fifth grade boy, a story like this sends the imagination wild. I even named many of my Lego guys after the characters I had read about in the Redwall series. There’s something about the medieval setting that appeals to me.
A little over a year ago, I took an Old English class wherein we had learned the Old English Runes; characters that J.R.R. Tolkien played around with and created the characters for Elvish – the language he created (he was actually a big time scholar for Old English nerds, like myself). In fact, there’s an addition of The Hobbit that has the title written in Old English Runes. I found a copy at Barnes & Noble and almost bought it just because I could read the Old English. At one point in that term, I was good enough at reading the writing and speaking the language that I could say entire sentences in Old English. By now it’s all gone, but I kept the book we studied from and all my notes; I could very easily pick it back up if I wanted to.
The only reason I write all this out is sometimes it’s just good to trace your passions. My passion for literature began with Martin the Warrior; the first book I had ever read the entire way through. I remember being somewhat embarrassed by it that I had tried to read it in secret; I didn’t want my classmates to find out and mock me – even though many of them would read Redwall later in the school year.
I was side-tracked from this passion for a long time. The allure of sports and athletic success seemed more valuable in the world’s eyes and I was at an age when I wanted people to notice me, so I ultimately joined up. Don’t get me wrong, I loved playing all the sports I did, but I loved even more the combination of words, the flow of sentences, and the rhythm of stories. Nothing has ever moved my heart like a good story.
When I started following Jesus – like actually following Jesus, not just showing up to church – I was immediately drawn to the power of the words in Scripture. Not because I was told they were holy or perfect or God’s words, but because they told beautiful stories. And when I learned that Jesus is described as the “Author and Perfecter of our faith,” I was undone.
I’ve gotten plenty of strange looks from people when they see the sword sitting in my close or in my room and many have asked, “Why?” I couldn’t really tell them then because I couldn’t really articulate why. There’s something behind certain symbols that requires no words at all; if you’re moved by something in a certain way, you know full well why and how a thousand different things blend together to give you those emotions and that love for that something, but you can’t really explain it. You’d be there all day giving your life story.
It’s this deep passion and love of the written word and the image of a sword that leads me to an idea I had about a week ago. It’s not going to make sense to many people, but I was reading my Bible one night while following along with a blog-conversation on Near Emmaus and all of a sudden, I wanted more out of it.
I wanted to see how these words – words that have given us life two thousand years after their inscription – were pieced together. I want to know what was at stake for these men and women who moved about many times in secret to preserve this text for us, though they would never have even guessed that these words would last this long. In a million guesses, they would not have guessed how the Bible came to be in today’s time. But they preserved it as though their lives depended upon it. And I look at that history and what they were willing to sacrifice to keep the movement of God, not the movement of Christianity or Catholicism or whatever worldly agenda we’ve given it, but the movement of God alive, and I can only think of one sentence; I want in. I want to be a part of that history.
What do I mean by all of this? Well, I’ve had my eye on Biblical studies programs around Oregon for the last few days, trying to pick out which one is a good one, which one could really teach me how that sword of God was pieced together and preserved for all these years. I don’t know if it’s perfect and I know the version we have today is something much different than what was originally written, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less powerful. That doesn’t mean God’s Spirit isn’t embedded within it.
Seminaries may not be able to provide what my heart is craving, but perhaps it’s a starting point. No matter where I decide to go after college, I know there are still many, many enslaved by a tyrant. And I know, like Martin the Warrior did facing Badrang who had thousands enslaved behind him, that I want to do something about it.