Saints: Brennan Manning (April 27, 1934 – April 12, 2013)

I cannot say quite how–I think it was the connection of Rich Mullins’ use of the word “Ragamuffin” that first led me to pick up The Ragamuffin Gospel from a discount shelf in a Christian bookstore when I was around 16 years old. From there, Brennan Manning’s grasp of grace came into my life like the first waves of a tide that has simply kept rolling higher up my rocky shores–a king tide moving far past any water lines I had previously marked out.

In The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus, Manning writes:

“Before I am asked to show compassion toward my brothers and sisters in their suffering, [God] asks me to accept [God’s] compassion in my own life, to be transformed by it, to become caring and compassionate toward myself in my own suffering and sinfulness, in my own hurt, failure and need. The degree of our compassion for others depends upon our capacity for self-acceptance. When I am most unhappy with myself, I am most critical of others. When I am most into self-condemnation, I am most judgmental of others. It is a truism that the saints, like Christ, are the most unjudgmental of Christians. They get on very well with sinners. They are not severe with human weaknesses. . .

When the compassion of Christ is interiorized, made personal and appropriated to ourselves, the breakthrough into caring for others occurs. In the mystery of divine wholeness, the way of compassionate caring for others brings healing to ourselves, and compassionate caring for ourselves brings healing to others. . . .

For many of us, trust does not come easily. Trust does not come from discovering in philosophy or cosmology some proof that God exists. Sometimes it happens when my eyes meet yours or when we share something in common. It is most likely to happen if I love you. . . .

If we are using the Gospel to segregate gays, batter blacks, justify prejudice toward Hispanics, Asians, Jews, or any of God’s children, then get rid of the Gospel so that we may experience the Gospel. If God is invoked to justify division, competition, contempt and hatred among Christian sects in the Body of Christ and hostility toward other world religions, then get rid of God so that we may find God. As the fourteenth-century mystic Meister Eckhart said: ‘I pray that I may be quit of God that I may find God.’ Our closed human concepts of Gospel and God can prevent us from experiencing both and stifle our freedom to love one another in a nonjudgmental way.”

The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus, 70-75. 1986

These words were published when I was 1 year old.

Somehow this song by Mary Gauthier has been rolling through me this week and when I heard the news of Brennan Manning’s death, something clicked and I felt something reverberate between me, this song, and his words and life.

brennan

Brother Brennan,

Pray for us. Pray that we may stumble into the staggering grace that you wrote and lived about. Intercede for us, as we seek to show compassion to ourselves and others. May your prophetic words offer us solace, courage, comfort, and hope as we lean into the breast of a God who is fond of us in ways we cannot imagine.

Saints: On Being Alive

There’s something prototypical of the saints. That we call them saints and yet recognize that we are all saints, speaks to this reality.

As I look at saints like Hildegard von Bingen and others I would consider patrons/matrons of mine: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Martin, San Isadore, Julian of Norwich–I am in awe of their capacity to surrender to living life fully. Through ecstatic visions, music, art, poetry, plowing, praying, protesting, and preaching, these people offer authentic lives as an offering to God and the world. Through the offerings of their lives we can imagine what being fully alive really looks like.

It seems a costly and uncertain thing. And perhaps this is why there are so few saints in the grand scheme of things. It seems to take a certain reckless abandonment to life, to God, to serving others, in order to live like the saints.

Some days I feel a spark of that audacity in me; some stretch toward that kind of being alive. I’ve certainly taken risks that are beyond anything I could have imagined and I’ve become more present to myself than I casually would have wanted. But I have felt drawn, by the Spirit of God, by the communion of all the saints, by my own desire, to lean toward life. I cannot explain it. I cannot stop trying to explain it.

Here, I try to explain it again:

Saint Brigid

For today’s Second Saturday: Saint, I’m highlighting St. Brigid of Kildare, whose Feast Day is celebrated February 1.

St. Brigid

Image (and much of the following info) from http://www.allsaintsbrookline.org/celtic_saints/brigid.html

It’s traditional on February 1st to make a St. Brigid’s cross to hang in your kitchen to protect against evil and fires (presumably, kitchen fires).

Brigid is one of the earliest church mothers that we have a lot of information about, and her hagiography, like many Celtic saints is intertwined with earlier Gaelic stories. What is fairly certain is that she founded multiple monasteries, most famously the one at Kildare which was a double monastery housing men and women (common in Ireland at the time). Brigid was recognized as an Abbess and some equivalence of a Bishop and is revered alongside Patrick as one of the earliest Christian leaders in Ireland. Stories about her tend to involve miracles of multiplying food, her compassion for lepers, tongues of fire that appear over her, and miraculous favor with the secular rulers of the land.

One of the greatest aspects of Brigid’s legacy is the influence she had on illuminated manuscripts. One of the greatest of all time was produced in her monastery at Kildare and was said to be unparalleled in beauty. Sadly, it disappeared sometime around the protestant reformation. In my heart, I want desperately to believe that it has been reverently guarded, passed cheerfully through the hands of Irish nuns who have cherished it in secret, knowing it’s beauty is too great for our post-enlightenment world.

My other fantasy is that it slipped from a satchel as it was being carried through a verdant stand of woods where it’s pages fluttered open and mesmerized the animals and insects–squirrel chatter silenced before the celtic knots and fair folk tucked amongst the sacred texts, until, at last the Irish moss and mist that inspired it’s creation welcomed the illuminations back into the sacred world that first fired the artists’ hearts to create.

Like later leaders of the church, Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich, Brigid was known and widely sought out for her wise counsel. Her wisdom was seen as connected to her aesthetic influence as well. She is said to have been weaving one of her crosses out of reeds (a symbol more reminiscent of the spiraling fractals of nature than the Roman instruments of death) as she tended to a dying druid ruler. Upon seeing the cross that she wove, he was deeply moved and converted to Brigid’s faith.

She was likely named after, and her legacy connected to, the older pagan goddess Brighid, who was seen as a motherly figure ensuring life and symbolized by perpetual fire representing fertility, medicine, wisdom, and metallurgy. Brigid, like other Celtic saints, bridged (you see what I did there?) these older ways of holding to the sacred and brought them into her understanding of God in the Christian faith. Her legacy holds together the sacredness of all things, and she embodies, equality, generosity, life, and spiritual companionship (the tradition of anam chara in Celtic Christianity is closely tied to Brigid and a fellow nun whom she considered her soul friend).

She is considered a patron saint of poets, dairymaids, blacksmiths, healers, cattle, fugitives, Irish nuns, midwives, and new-born babies–no wonder I like her. She’s a fierce, fiery, artist of a saint. Brigid, intercede for us, that we may know the glory of this world and offer wisdom, beauty, and compassion out of the fire of our hearts.