“Grace cannot be weakened by anything a human being does or disbelieves. It runs on a pure thing, in spite of, as well as because of us.”
-Kent Meyers, Twisted Tree (as referred to by John Blase in All Is Grace)
Last night I finished reading a book called All Is Grace by Brennan Manning and John Blase.* This photo was taken before I finished reading it. Now the blank spaces of my journal are completely filled with quotes and notes and insights.
(*Quick side note: John happens to be my editor for the book I’m going to have published next year some time, and I told Tony recently, if I could have hand-selected an editor, I don’t think I could have picked a better one than John. He speaks my language.)
I was talking with my friend Lydia recently over coffee and we were connecting on a lot of hard spiritual questions, when she suggested a book by Brennan Manning to me. It wasn’t the All is Grace book, but the book she suggested wasn’t at our library, so I picked up this one instead. It’s the story of Brennan’s life.
I had tried to read a book of his a year or so ago and it must have not been the right timing, because I couldn’t get into it. But this book, from the start, spoke to me because it told of a man who wasn’t afraid to talk about the darkness, the mystery and messiness of life. He mentions at one point about “the thick darkness that was always behind any light in my life.” I wrote the quote in my journal and then wrote directly underneath it, “Do we all have this?”
I feel like I had to read this particular book of Brennan’s first. This book where he self-admittedly says, he shares more than he ever has before about the darker sides of his life. I have a hard time stomaching much else these days. I need to hear from authors who wrestle with God and wrestle with themselves, not just memorize proper answers and formulas and then live their whole life trying to pretend those answers and formulas work.
I love Brennan’s words, “There’s got to be more.” His life is proof that he has been on a search for it. And I’m on a search for it too. U2′s words are an aching lullaby – “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
Brennan Manning calls the grace that he has come to know a vulgar grace. When the world asked of Brennan, in regards to his “poor” life choices, “How could you?” Brennan’s response is “These things happen.” Only a man wrapped in a vulgar grace could learn to respond in this way.
I was thrilled to see quotes in the book from authors I have been sitting with over the last year, like Thomas Merton and Richard Rohr and Mary Oliver. I was excited to read about a group of men he called the Notorious Sinners whose rule was “There are no rules.” This resonated with me as I find myself drawn to my own Secret Rebel Club, a group of women who speak my language.
And I was excited to hear that while some might see his “calling” as Christian evangelism, Brennan has realized, “My calling is, and always has been, to a life filled with family and friends and alcohol and Jesus and Roslyn and notoriously good sinners.” He also says, “I am more than the sum of my deeds” and that he’s trying to finally let God love him just as he is.
This might well be my favorite takeaway from the book (although there are several) simply because it is the aching acceptance that we are who we are, with all of our flaws and flailings AND all of our successes and celebrations. We aren’t who the world asks us to be, or even sometimes, who the world assumes we are. Our calling is not to be a saint, our calling is to accept us, as is. “Today I will not should myself,” Brennan quotes a friend, and this is the life that is possible with vulgar grace.
One part of me wants to scream, “You should have exercised yesterday. And you should have spent some time writing. And you should not have yelled at your kids yesterday for the spilled cereal and spilled milk. You should not have been angry that this mess was an interruption to your art, your so called ‘real’ calling.”
But the other part of me says, “You know what, these things happen.” The reality is I don’t thrive when living by a rigid routine. I’m not a robot. I don’t use every moment “wisely.” I’m an angry person sometimes. I say mean things. I get irritable. I bristle. I yell and I knock around a few folding chairs. I sink into my private bubble or hide in my closet. You only know what I want you to. (Right,Rain?) AND YET I am still living out my calling. I’m not off track or off schedule. I’m right where I’m supposed to be. (Right, Teresa?) And therefore my faith looks like this sort of hoping rather than knowing (right, Mandy?) that there is a God who loves me just as I am, so I can love and enjoy myself and go on living out this sordid, aching, sometimes crawling, sometimes skipping higher calling of simply being Mandy. That is enough.