I finished reading Brennan Manning‘s book, All is Grace, a while back and have been meaning to write about it but, for once, I am lost for the right words to convey how much I was moved by Manning’s story.
All is Grace is autobiography at its best–not simply a story but one that draws the reader into the author’s life and, more importantly, the joys and sorrows and lessons learned. Black Coffee Reflections blog writes of this book as being “A true testimony of a man who desired to be devoted to God but was insistent on sabotaging himself and the will of God at every turn. Brennan seems to know two things in his life: Despite his talents, he is his own worst enemy, and two, he knows he must cling to the grace of God to get him through – hence the title, All Is Grace.”
What I most appreciated about this book–in fact in all of Brennan Manning’s books–is his honesty and vulnerability. He has no problem divulging the dirtiest of secrets or the deepest of sins. And he has plenty to reveal. . . . but then, don’t we all–if we are honest with ourselves?
Brennan does this in such a way as not to paint any masterpiece of his erring ways, but to paint a glorious picture of God’s great love and all-forgiving grace. One cannot read this book and not see the grace and generosity of God.
I recall only a few times when I have been struck with such a powerful image of grace and both relate to books I have read and how they spoke into my life at precisely the right moment. The first was Why Grace Changes Everything by Chuck Smith. Here I began to understand grace as coming to me not because of my ability or effort, but simply as a gift as I rest in the goodness of God. The second was In the Grip of Grace by Max Lucado where the overwhelming love of God and unrelenting graciousness was first revealed to me.
Manning’s book takes God’s grace one step further. While Smith and Lucado both wrote beautifully about grace, Manning experiences this truth in a immensely significant way and shares his struggles, his failures, and his pain to show us that God’s grace is real and far stronger and greater than anything we can throw up against it.
God took one of the lowest points in Brennan’s life to teach him a lesson about the magnitude of his grace and forgiveness. Brennan’s mother had passed away and, partly because of his memories of her and his life at home and partly because of where he was at this point in his life, he turned to the bottle. He was so drunk he totally missed his mother’s funeral.
One of the questions I’ve often asked myself is, What makes a man drown himself in drink to the point that he passes out and misses his own mother’s funeral? It has seemed like a huge question to me. but eventually I realised: It is not the question. There is another question behind it. a more seminal one that forms and informs all my others. Not long ago, I came across a small yellowed piece of paper in my stack of writings. It has the letterhead “Willie Juan Ministries” with a scratch below it from my own hand, a single line, a question: “What is the telltale sign of a trusting heart?”
I cannot remember when I wrote it or what might have prompted the question. Yet it is there, evidence of a ragamuffin’s lifelong wondering. Here is my answer, the answer that is. as Thomas Merton wrote, “the ‘Yes’ which brings Christ into the world.”
The trusting heart gives a second chance.
I know that’s true because of an experience I had on a November day in 2003. My mother had been dead and gone for close to ten years. As I was praying about other things, her face flashed across the window of my mind. It was not a worn face like that of an old mother or grandmother, but a child’s face. I saw my mother as a little six-year-old girl kneeling on the windowsill of the orphanage in Montreal. Her nose was pressed against the glass; she was begging God to send her a mommy and daddy who would whisk her away and love her without condition. As I looked, I believe I finally saw my mother; she was a ragamuffin too. And all my resentment and anger fell away. The little girl turned and walked toward me. As she drew closer, the years flew by and she stood before me an aged woman. She said, “You know, I messed up a lot when you were a kid. But you turned out okay.” Then my old mother did something she’d never done before in her life, never once. She kissed me on the lips and on both cheeks. At that moment I knew that the hurt between my mother and me was real and did matter, but that it was okay. The trusting heart gives a second chance; it is forgiven and, in turn, forgives.
Grace doesn’t stop with forgiveness by God, but works its way through the heart of the forgiven one until he or she, overwhelmed by God’s love, then becomes a channel; of that generous grace in forgiving others. Grace, then, becomes a life. Broknenness becomes a path to understanding love. Pain becomes an avenue to trusting. Vulnerability leads us to see how much we are loved by God.
And then we realise, as Brennan Manning does, that