Dear Henri, Meet Brennan – Week 15, Day 1

brennan manningDear Henri,

Did you ever meet the original Ragamuffin?

He used to call himself a “vagabond evangelist”.

Henri, meet Brennan. Brennan, meet Henri.

Your both are passed & gone now, but I’d like to think you both would have gotten along famously. Sons of different traditions, brothers of Spirit, you would have been kindred spirits — of that I’m sure.

“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick’, whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

‘But how?’ we ask.

Then the voice says, ‘They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’

There they are. There *we* are – the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith. 

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.” -Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

He talks a lot about this thing called grace. U2 song aside, I like to think of Grace as a Beautiful Woman — sometimes young & quiet, sometimes old & knarled.

But Beautiful.

Undeserved.

Freely moving among the people.

Sometimes she has pale skin and small bones, large & luminous eyes, long hair hidden within a long hood and cloak (too much? Welcome to my imagination); sometimes she’s ebony-dark, with tightly knotted hair & syrupy dark eyes & yes, a cloak & hood; sometimes her skin is brown, with high cheekbones, black eyes and black hair braided to her waist & yes, a cloak & hood.

Grace walks about unnoticed, and content to be so. Our awareness of her comes when we feel her touch on our shoulders, her hand on top of our tembling hands, her breath in our ears as she whispers:

“I love you.”

Can you hear that?

Yeah… me neither.

I spent 10 hours today pounding pavement with a 19 year old woman, trying to find her a job… a place to live… a life plan that would offer hope for success… hope for her as she seeks to be seen as herself, and not her Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. We went to business after business, fast-food chain after fast-food chain. We meet some great potential employers and some lousy ones. After a long disheartening search for shelter, we finally found a space she just might be able to call home.

“I love you.”

Maybe Grace is walking beside us, carefully deafening her steps so we won’t lose focus (all too easy for someone with FASD); maybe she’s walking behind us, providing momentum before we actually feel the deepest part of our weariness; maybe she’s walking on the other side of the street, whispering to that one employer that he could give this woman a chance.

For me?

Me, The Christian, who should know peace, love, joy & victory? Daily, inside I feel the lousy pressure of defeat because I need to fill the loneliness with something, just like perfect little Christian Brennan needed beer.

Manning says it better:

“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.

To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”

The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All that is good is ours not by right but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned–our degree and our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh.

We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift, “If we but turn to God,” said St. Augustine, “that itself is a gift of God.” 

My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” 

Do I always ‘get’ Grace?

Yes. I get her in that I receive her.

Do I understand?

No.

No, Henri, I do not.

Did you?

Did you ever get Grace?

Until next time,
Love,

Erin

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