I attended a retreat in Charlotte, NC this past weekend led by Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel and several other books including his most recent publication, The Furious Longing of God from which this retreat was based.
Brennan is an alcoholic, Catholic, former priest, sinner... healed, humorous, engaging storyteller, vulnerable, lover of Abba and loved by Abba just as he is! Brennan invited and challenged all to recognize that Abba loves each of just as we are. He also challenged us to love one another just as we are. Leave judgement to Abba. Practice the two greatest commandments; Love the Lord with all your heart and soul; love your neighbor as yourself.
As so often the case, I came expecting one thing and what I got was different and what I needed. I was fed.
The retreat began Friday evening. Brennan suffered memory loss in this opening session apparently due to a significant loss of blood from a fall back in the fall of 2008. There were pregnant pauses and flat stretches of silence as Brennan tried to coax his memory to cooperate. Those of us in attendance pushed back and paused. I am sure many of us bowed our heads in prayer. I am reminded that Mozart once pointed out that the space between the notes was as important as the notes. I believe the space between Brennan's pauses were the needed quiet times to listen for God. "Let God. Let go" was my fervent prayer. Compassion reigned. The next morning Brennan was renewed, inspired and on! He humbly acknowledged his plight, asked for forgiveness and acknowledged the love he felt from all of us. Abba was at work among all of us!
Brennan reminded us of the poverty of our vocabulary, our misunderstanding, our missing of the profound. One example he gave was Old Testament scripture concerning fear of the Lord. The way we interpret fear in today's language and the way it was intended are different. The original intent, meaning and use of the word fear centered on silent wonder, radical amazement and affectionate awe. If we are afraid of God, how can we enter into a deeper relationship? Fear causes us to avoid. Fear prevents us from trusting. Greater our fear, greater is the loss of trust. Brennan recommended we deal with our fear by constantly and continuously praying, "Abba, I belong to you!" Brennan shared stories of the healing power of this prayer and the deepening relationship with God made possible with this meditation.
Brennan emphasized to those of us in attendance to see the good in one another and to affirm. The sign of authenticity for our love of God is the way we see and treat others. He reminded us what we do to others, how we treat others, is the way we treat Jesus Christ! Brennan used the story of Don Quixote and Dulcinea in the Man from La Mancha to help us understand the healing power of affirmation. Here is a radical thought. What if we each became professional lovers of God as demonstrated with Emmanuel, taking up all our time to affirm, heal and loving our fellow person to Christ leaving no time for judgment, hate or greed. We would share and give as we have been given! Thy kingdom come to earth as it is in heaven!
I am reminded how important it is to retreat, renew and reconnect... regularly! We need to make time to push our "pause buttons" and mute the busyness of our lives to examine our core values and beliefs, our purpose, our mission and relationships especially with God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Time with Brennan Manning was true manna from Abba. If you get the opportunity to be led by Brennan, do not miss it!
Our retreat ended with the benediction...
May all your expectations be frustrated,
May all your plans be thwarted,
May all your desires be withered into nothingness,
That you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child,
And sing and dance in the love of God,
Yours in Abba, Son and Spirit. Amen