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On the Passing of a Friend I Never Met

April 21, 2013

The dear friend who first introduced me to his work several years ago, alerted me to the death on April 12th of Brennan Manning.  I don’t hear much news here in Haiti, and was unaware of his passing.  Thinking of my experience of the man through his writings, particularly The Ragamuffin Gospel, I decided my personal tribute would be to re-read that work.  I found it as fresh and inspiring as I did on my first reading of it many years ago, perhaps more so.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you do so.  It is one of the most positive and comforting books I have ever read.

The former Franciscan priest is a somewhat controversial figure, much criticized from some quarters.  I have even seen him called dangerous.  But for us ragamuffins, Brennan’s writing is a balm to our souls, as he calls us in Abba’s Child to “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God”.  Brennan does not imprison Jesus within the walls of the church as some would do, but allows Him to hang out with the ragamuffins of the world–“the bedraggled, beat-up and burned out”.  After all, wasn’t such “scandalous” behaviour what Jesus was criticized for during His earthly ministry?

I give you one of my (and many other people’s) favourite quotes from The Ragamuffin Gospel:

The Word we study has to be the Word we pray.  My personal experience of the relentless tenderness of God came not from exegetes, theologians and spiritual writers, but from sitting still in the presence of the living Word and beseeching Him to help me understand with my head and my heart His written Word.  Sheer scholarship alone cannot reveal to us the gospel of grace.  We must never allow the authority of books, institutions or leaders to replace the authority of “knowing” Jesus Christ personally and directly.  When the religious views of others interpose between us and the primary experience of Jesus as the Christ, we become unconvicted and unpersuasive travel agents handing out brochures to places we have never visited.

As I have written before, I believe there is no substitute for reading the Word of God under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to “know” Jesus.  Other resources certainly have a legitimate place, but they are all secondary.

In The Ragamuffin Gospel, Manning includes a poem he attributes to General Douglas MacArthur.  The General indeed did have a copy of it on the wall of his Tokyo office, and was known for quoting it frequently.  However hia version as it appears in Manning’s book is a paraphrase, much shorter and with considerable deviation from the original work by Samuel Ullman.  Perhaps some of Ullman’s phrases were too sentimental for a military man of MacArthur’s era.

The original itself was published in two versions, one longer than the other.  There are also some differences in the wording and punctuation.  I decided to post the longer version, although there were unique aspects of each, including MacArthur’s, that appealed to me.  But whichever version, the central message remains the same.

Perhaps it is the time I am at in my life that draws me to this poem.  Perhaps it is who I am and how I think.  Perhaps it is my sense of wonder, acute since childhood, and remaining unblunted to this day.  But perhaps it is something else.

YOUTH

Youth is not a time of life, it is a state of mind.  It is not a matter of red cheeks, red lips and supple knees.  It is a temper of the will; a quality of the imagination; a vigor of the emotions; it is a freshness of the deep springs of life.  Youth means a temperamental dominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over a life of ease.  This often exists in a man of fifty more than in a boy of twenty.  Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years; people grow old by deserting their ideals.  Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.  Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair, these are the long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing spirit back to dust.  Whether seventy or sixteen, there is in every being’s heart a love of wonder; the sweet amazement at the stars and star-like things and thoughts; the undaunted challenge of events, the unfailing childlike appetite for what comes next, and joy in the game of life.  You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.  In the central place of your heart there is a wireless station.  So long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, grandeur, courage and power from the earth, from men and from the Infinite, so long are you young.  When the wires are all down and the central places of your heart are covered with the snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then are you grown old, indeed!

Until we meet, my friend.

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