Well friends, it’s been far too long since I’ve posted on my blog, but part of that could be explained by the contents of this post. Basically, I’ve allowed layer upon layer of stress, obligation, and conflict to shroud my soul. Of course, that leads to a withered self-esteem and the frightening realization that I find myself distant from God, even though nothing about God’s proximity to me or his love has changed one bit. Keep in mind, I’m not crumbling apart or in the funk of depression; thank God for that, at least. Much of what I’ve been enduring lately is seasonal in nature, and like all things, it will pass. But, the difference is that I want to come out stronger on the other side of this nasty season. In other words, I don’t want to simply survive this season. I desperately desire to thrive because of it. There’s a world of difference between the two– the numb complacency of mere survival or the joyful triumph of thriving in abundant life. You take your pick!
In times like these, I find myself coming back to the words of a man who has been my soul’s companion during times of darkness. The writings of Brennan Manning have been a blessing to me in every sense of the word. His writing is far more than just comfort or encouragement. (One can always turn to Hallmark or the latest 2-dollar “Words of Daily Encouragement” book for that.) Brennan’s writing launches a radical readjustment of my life back to the unconditional love and grace of God.
I first encountered Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel when a church member, a dear, dear lady who had an uncanny love for God, gave it to me. She said, “You will love this book. It changed my life.” Well, whenever someone hands me a book she claims changed her life, I’m hard pressed not to read it. From the first words of the book’s introduction to the final chapter, I could not put this book down. Never before had I read someone so passionately articulate the love and grace of God for me in such an honest, often gritty, earthy way. I mean, at times, Brennan Manning’s pronouncement of grace got close to scandalous, challenging me to ask, “Does God’s grace really go that far?” And just as I asked, he would provide a Scripture and a story to answer my question with a resounding YES.
Brennan Manning is an interesting guy. He’s a former Franciscan priest whose work took him all over the world, often to the poorest of places. In the 1970’s he left the priesthood to confront his raging alcoholism. That began a season of writing and teaching which lasts to this day, although he’s slowed down quite a bit in recent years. What most captivates me about Brennan is that he is the botched, highly flawed, at times unlovable ragamuffin he writes about. There’s an honesty and sincerity about his own brokenness that makes his description of God’s grace that much more compelling. In other words, he’s not sharing theory, but reality— both his reality and our reality, if we choose to trust the message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
But my story with Brennan Manning didn’t stop there. Several months later in March of 2004 , I went with my church’s youth group to Ocean City, MD for a youth conference. This conference also provides a speaker for adults. It so happened that the adult speaker for that year was none other than Brennan Manning. Talk about perfect timing! His public teaching was just as mesmerizing as his writing. I clung to every word he spoke to us. Clutched in my arm was my copy of Ragamuffin Gospel, and I had hoped meet Brennan to share my appreciation and to have him sign my book.
Brennan is a very quiet, humble, non-assuming person when he’s not on stage. I approached him, spoke with him, and he graciously signed my book. He then told me that if I liked Ragamuffin Gospel I ought to also purchase his Abba’s Child, which I did. He signed both of these books to me, and posed with me for a picture.
The night I got home from that youth conference, the storm of my life began. My former wife informed me of her intent to separate. Three days later when I came home from the office for lunch, I discovered that she had left me, taking Grace with her, which began the long, excruciating season of separation and divorce. For anyone who’s ever been through this, you know that the first thing to get flushed down the toilet is your self-esteem. Depression, self-loathing, anger, sorrow, desperation, and fear come right along with it.
To this day, I thank my Lord for the safety net of family and friends he placed around me during those perilous years. And also, right there in those quiet, lonely times were the writings of Brennan Manning, particularly his Ragamuffin Gospel and Abba’s Child, both beautiful pieces of writing that poured grace and love into my emaciated soul. Today, I find myself coming back to Brennan when I need a lift. Recently, it began when Blairlee bought me a copy of Brennan’s latest book Patched Together: A Story of My Story.
If you’re looking for tightly constructed, even-keeled writing, you won’t find any of that in Brennan’s work. Reading Brennan Manning is like walking along a thick garden path that takes you into unexpected landscapes of wild colors and contours. You have no idea what to anticipate next, some of the sights more beautiful and desirable than others, but nonetheless a sincere work of art. Brennan weaves his own reflections, stories, and Scripture together to immerse the reader into a world of God’s grace. Sometimes he whispers followed by a shout. At times I find myself laughing, crying, cringing, and soothed. It’s funny… All this describes the nature of a life in Christ, doesn’t it?
So, every few days, I’ll journal on a portion of each chapter from Ragamuffin Gospel, finding something that speaks to me while briefly reflecting on it. I’m doing this for my own sake, but I also truly hope that it would be a blessing to you, too, especially since you’re kind enough to read these ramblings of mine! I look forward to some conversation together. These posts may not be as earth-shattering as others I’ve done, but I think they may prove to be some of the most important ones I write, at least for the time being. If for nothing else, we’ll learn more about each other and how we each experience the love and grace of God.