I was very saddened to hear of the death of Brennan Manning, one of my favorite authors. I was so saddened in fact that I couldn’t even think of anything to write about him on the blog for the past (nearly) two weeks. Brennan’s words have meant a lot to me over the years, and faced with his mortality I found myself having none to return to him… I began my attempt at writing this post during a lunch-break at work. He deserves more. Yet, in the ragamuffin way, I am giving what I have, hoping it is enough.
Like all fans of his work, my first exposure to Brennan’s writing was his book “The Ragamuffin Gospel.” It was a life-changing read. It was the first time that I really ever understood that the nature of God’s love is that it is undeserved, but you get it anyway…and since God can’t be wrong about anything, then it actually kind of IS deserved… Dichotomy. I love dichotomy. Brennan was overflowing with dichotomy… A recovering alcoholic and a Franciscan Brother. A priest and a pauper. A hero to many who was very, very obviously only a man–and a man who would have hated to be called a hero. His hero was Jesus, and that’s who he wanted people to see…
After I first read “The Ragamuffin Gospel” back in the (GASP!) 90s, I have since re-read it, given it away to someone who needed it, and bought a new copy a dozen times over. I have also read nearly every other book Brennan has written, with the exception of his final book–fittingly his memoir, which is on my birthday list. Brennan’s chief theme is God’s grace and mercy. God’s furious love for a people that long ago abandoned Him, and our response of gratitude. It feels foolish to say that I am a better person or a better Christian thanks to Brennan Manning. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Upon reading his book “The Wisdom of Tenderness” I was so moved I wrote Brennan a letter to thank him for his work as an author. That was in 2003. I wrote, assuming he MIGHT read it, but that it would likely be opened and discarded by a secretary somewhere. At best, I expected a form-letter response from his publisher, telling me of his next release date. After a couple of months went by, what I received in the mail was something completely different than I’d expected. Ten years later, I opened the frame I’d saved it in to take this picture…
That sweet, kind, Godly, then sixty-eight year old man who had at that time been read by literally MILLIONS of people took the time to write me back, in his own hand. (Full text transcription available at my tumblr page.) I wrote the first draft of this post on a sheet of yellow legal paper, in MY own hand. I am giving what I have…it is nowhere near enough.
Though I call him by his first name, it would be absolutely misleading to suggest that Brennan and I were friends. We did not continue corresponding after my one letter to him and his to me. We never met. I was not personally there for him when blindness gripped him in his old age. I was not able nor would it have occurred to me to offer him a roof when his home was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy…
And yet it hurt–physically HURT–to hear he had died.
But then… Then I felt a great relief bordering on joy knowing that his long suffering was over. There is no more alcohol abuse for Brennan Manning. No more sexual temptation. No more blindness. No more pain. No more hardship. No more struggle. He has been freed from the Franciscan vow he so readily embraced. On April 12, 2013 Brennan Manning walked through the pearly gates, crawled into his savior’s lap, softly spoke the word “Abba” and met his reward. And it was all worth it. And it was beautiful.
He gave what he had. He gave SO much more than enough. He ran the race, he persevered…and I miss him.
Rest well under the mercy, Brennan.