The Ragamuffin Gospel / All Is Grace
By Brennan Manning
Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up and Burnt Out
Many of us believe in grace, yet we live as if we still have to earn God’s love. We picture God hanging His head in disappointment, tallying our successes and failures on a score sheet. We assume we have to do more, or be a different person, for God to be pleased with us. The Bible tells us that by grace we are saved. So why does our spirituality often start with ourselves, not with God? Why are we likely to believe in grace in theory but deny it in practice?
Drawing from personal stories and the key themes of his ministry, Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel explores the true meaning of the word grace in all its power, and shows us a different, truer image of our relationship with God: We come to God as ragamuffins, bedraggled, dirty, exhausted. But as we sit at God’s feet, He smiles upon us. He embraces us. He treats us not as failures but as the chosen objects of His love. We can recognize our poverty and powerlessness as what bring us closer to a God whose love embraces us no matter what.
In his memoir All Is Grace, Brennan recounts with honesty and vivid detail his own ragamuffin story; his childhood feelings of inadequacy prompted by a highly critical and emotionally distant mother and an alcoholic father. Yearning for acceptance and understanding from a young age, Brennan already felt beat-up. He found solace in friendships, booze and in school where his gift for writing was encouraged. He set his sights on college, dreaming of becoming a writer. Interrupted after his sophomore year by a short stint in the Marines, Brennan then re-enrolled in university. By that time, he knew something was missing.
Despite his upbringing and Catholic schooling, Brennan was still yearning for a deeper relationship with God. After a semester at the university, Brennan chose to enter a Franciscan seminary in Loretto, PA. True to form, after only a week, he attempted to leave but God had other plans. He stopped at the chapel and visited the stations of the cross and felt, in the depths of his soul, what he’d been seeking, Christ’s unconditional love and grace extended towards him. Flash forward seven years to Brennan’s ordination as a priest.
The ensuing years of ministry were filled with joyful fellowship, sharing the message of God’s grace to those with the very least. Well regarded and loved by so many, Brennan’s deep wounds and struggles persisted. Even while spreading the good news in the years of his priesthood, alcoholic binges plagued him. He was then, by all accounts, a functioning alcoholic.
Trappist monk Thomas Keating said, “The cross Jesus asked you to carry is yourself. It’s all the pain inflicted on you in your past and all the pain you’ve inflicted on others.” From his early days as a budding scholar, soldier, seminarian and ordained priest to his years as a husband, father figure and influential speaker and author, Brennan’s cross was more than he could carry. He repeatedly disappointed his family, his friends, even those who cared enough to admonish him, and encourage him to stop drinking. Disappearing for days at a time, lying, denying and charming his way through rehab, even drinking himself to the point of blacking out and missing his own mother’s funeral, Brennan lied, again and again and chose drink over the grace he was offered. Yet despite all the times he let people down, grace remained.
When we beat ourselves up over who we are or what we’ve done, we pull away from God. When we acknowledge that it is only grace that can save us, we draw near to a God who delights in who He created us to be.
Brennan didn’t turn away from God, but he found it hard to embrace his ragamuffin self. He reached so many preaching the unconditional grace and love of the Father, extending both so beautifully to others. His last years of life were shadowed by the effects of the disease that had long walked beside him, Wernicke Korsakoff syndrome, more commonly known as ‘wet brain’ syndrome. In the end, the grace he long preached and extended to others Brennan found for himself.
Genre: Biography / Documentary
Locations: Brooklyn, NY; Queens, NY; Loretto, PA; Saint Remy, France; Ft. Lauderdale, FL; New Orleans, LA and all around the globe
Themes: Family discord, feelings of unworthiness, seeking, spirituality, grace, faith, love, God’s transcendent truth
Brennan Manning: scholar, soldier, former priest, husband, charismatic speaker, alcoholic
Amy and Emmett Manning (Brennan’s parents): stoic, emotionally absent, long-suffering mother; unemployed, absentee alcoholic father
Rob Manning: Brennan’s older brother, a counted-on presence in Brennan’s life
Frances Brennan: the mother of one of Brennan’s school mates, Frances Brennan was the mother figure in Brennan’s life, providing love, affirmation and joy
Paul Sheldon: a long-time friend of Brennan’s, recovering alcoholic, member of a large group of male friends, self-dubbed the ‘Notorious Sinners’
About the Author:
Brennan Manning spent over forty years helping others experience the reality of God’s grace. It’s at the heart of everything he’s written and done. A recovering alcoholic himself, and former Franciscan priest, he has walked a spiritual journey that has taken him down a variety of paths. He has taught seminarians, spoken to packed arenas, lived in a cave while laboring with the poor in Spain, and ministered to shrimpers in Alabama. Brennan is best known as the author of the contemporary classics The Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba’s Child, Ruthless Trust, The Importance of Being Foolish, Patched Together, and The Furious Longing of God.