If I had to name a Christian writer who had the single most influence on my life it would undeniably be Brennan Manning. The ragamuffin priest and writer passed away early Friday morning after deteriorating health. To think back on the ways in which Brennan influenced my life from an early age is to think back on my journey as a Christ follower.
Brennan manning was my first encounter with grace. The reason I now I have the word tattoed on my neck. He was my first encounter with radical confession and honesty—the first writer with whom I felt a kinship in their struggles to love and be loved by God. The first person I read who I felt honestly portrayed the Christian life—with no political slant or quest for power or self-help slogans.
He made me want to be a Franciscan priest or go meditate in a cave in Spain.
He made me want to live amongst the poor in Mississippi.
He pronounced blessing over my discouraged, worn-out, and doubt-ridden self.
It was my father who first introduced me to The Ragamuffin Gospel. He said it was the best book written on grace he had ever read. My father, a Christian counselor and elder at our local church, encouraged me to read it multiple times. But, I was in high school and thought little of reading books on theology or Christian Spirituality, especially books recommended by one’s dad.
When I finally cracked open the book though, it was the archetypal experience of someone putting words to what you had thought all along, but didn’t know how to say. It was all the clichés. A breath of fresh air. Spring. Etc.
I continued to read Brennan’s works and they continued to inspire me and draw me closer to Abba. I was haunted by his question of whether or not I really believed God loved me. In high school it was easier to believe, I thought I was a decent person then. But after high school I began a long and dark journey with depression and sin and addiction and it became ever more challenging to really believe that God could love someone like me.
I remember when I first heard Brennan’s take on nuclear weapons and got scared because I was a good nationalist and proud American who hadn’t thought much about war or nationalism and didn’t care for all those “liberal hippies.” I however soon became the “liberal hippie” I once disdained. Not because of Brennan Manning but because of Jesus and how Brennan pointed me to him.
I still read his books continuously throughout the year. It calms my heart just to pick up The Ragamuffin Gospel off my black bookshelf and flip through a page or two. His works to me are penultimate to the scriptures themselves, blasphemy perhaps I realize.
His words become ever more important with the years, especially today, when I feel the most burnt-out and discouraged I’ve been in awhile, his words calm my frightful and anxious ragamuffin experience. They remind me that, as he says, “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.”
He reminded me that I cannot give in to self-hatred and guilt no matter how overwhelming those feelings can be.
After finishing his memoir last year, I wondered at how a man with such a frightful and sad story could continue his walk with Abba. But if a man with a loveless childhood, two day drinking benders, divorce, and so on could continue to believe and love God and continue to believe that God loves and believes in him, then I guess I could to.
He gives me strength to go on.
And I have absolutely no sadness in my heart for I know that what Brennan wanted all along was to finally be at home with Jesus. And so he is.