Read an Excerpt
the furious longing of God
By Brennan Manning
David C. CookCopyright © 2009 Brennan Manning
All rights reserved.
The genesis of this book originated in 1978 during a thirty-day silent, directed retreat at a spiritual center in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. My director, a Jesuit priest named Bob Hamm, guided me to a passage in the Song of Solomon:
I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me. (7:10 NASB)
This is the passage I prayed for the duration of my time there.
Over the past thirty years, I have prayed that passage (Song of Solomon 7:10ff.) in soaring 747s, monasteries, caves, retreat centers, and deserted places. I believe His desire for you and me can best be described as a furious longing. If you don't get anything else out of this book, I hope you begin to pray that passage. When you take those words personally, I mean very personally, a number of beautiful things come to pass:
The drumbeats of doom in your head will be replaced by a song in your heart, which could lead to a twinkle in your eye.
You will not be dependent on the company of others to ease your loneliness, for He is Emmanuel—God with us.
The praise of others will not send your spirit soaring, nor will their criticism plunge you into the pit. Their rejection may make you sick, but it will not be a sickness unto death.
In a significant interior development, you will move from I should pray to I must pray.
You will live with an awareness that the Father not only loves you, but likes you.
You will stop comparing yourself with others. In the same way, you will not trumpet your own importance, boast about your victories in the vineyard, or feel superior to anyone.
You will read Zephaniah 3:17–18 and see God dancing for joy because of you (the Jerusalem Bible translation is accurate).
Off and on throughout the day, you will just know that you are being seen by Jesus with a gaze of infinite tenderness.
I am a witness to these truths.
* * *
There is no need to mince words. I believe that Christianity happens when men and women experience the reckless, raging confidence that comes from knowing the God of Jesus Christ. I've said that before in books and talks, and it'd be blasphemous for that not to show up here at the beginning of this book.
In my forty-four years of ministry, the furious love of God has been the dominant theme of my life. I've varied with titles such as Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba's Child, and The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus, but they are all facets of the same gem: that the shattering truth of the transcendent God seeking intimacy with us is not well served by gauzy sentimentality, schmaltz, or a naked appeal to emotion, but rather in the boiling bouillabaisse of shock bordering on disbelief, wonder akin to incredulity, and affectionate awe tinged by doubt.
The furious longing of God is beyond our wildest desires, our hope or hopelessness, our rectitude or wickedness, neither cornered by sweet talk nor gentle persuasion. The furious longing of God, as Dan Berrigan writes, is "not to be reduced to a thing, a grand ideal; it is not to be reduced to a plaything, a caged songbird, for the amusement of children." It cannot be tamed, boxed, captivated, housebroken, or templebroken. It is simply and startlingly Jesus, the effulgence of the Father's love.
The seldom-stated truth is that many of us have a longing for God and an aversion to God. Some of us seek Him and flee Him at the same time. We may scrupulously observe the Ten Commandments and rarely miss church on a Sunday morning, but a love affair with Jesus is just not our cup of tea. I don't really think that about you. If that were the case, you wouldn't have searched the couch cushions for change to buy this book. I am writing The Furious Longing of God truthfully and candidly, to share of the God who has revealed Himself in my personal history. After you've read it, I hope you'll drop it at a used bookstore where some ragamuffin will pick it up and she'll say, "Cool." Then maybe she'll pass it on to some poor wretch who is bedraggled, beat up, and burned out, and he'll shout, "Wow!"
I am witness to the truth that Abba still whispers:
Come then, my beloved, My lovely one, come. For see, winter is past, The rains are over and gone.
Flowers are appearing on the earth. The season of glad songs has come, The cooing of the turtledove Is heard in our land.
The fig tree is forming its first figs and the blossoming vines give out their Fragrance.
Come then, my beloved, my lovely one, come. (Song 2:10–13 NJB)
* * *
1. When you read that phrase—the furious longing of God—what emotions or images does it evoke?
2. "... I should pray to I must pray." How would you describe the difference between the two?CHAPTER 2
The noun fury is commonly associated with extreme anger. However, when the Oxford Dictionary of Current English discusses "the fury of a gathering storm," the meaning morphs into intense energy.
When one of England's finest writers, G. K. Chesterton, spoke of "the furious love of God," he was referencing the enormous vitality and strength of the God of Jesus seeking union with us.
Another ragamuffin, Rich Mullins, sought to describe the same longing of God:
In the reckless raging fury that they call the love of God.
I miss my good friend.
* * *
Employing adjectives such as furious, passionate, vehement, and aching to describe the longing of God are my mumbling and fumbling to express the Inexpressible. Yet, I plod on. Both theology, which is faith seeking understanding, and spirituality, which is the faith-experience of what we understand intellectually, offer a glimpse into the mystery. Now we see only reflections in a mirror, mere riddles (1 Cor. 13:12). But someday, the adjectives will give way to the reality.
But then there's also that word Chesterton used: union. That's one of the most explosive words in my Christian vocabulary. The daring metaphor of Jesus as bridegroom suggests that the living God seeks more than an intimate relationship with us. The reckless, raging fury of Yahweh culminates, dare we say it, in a symbiotic fusion, a union so substantive that the apostle Paul would write:
It is no longer I who live, But christ lives in me.
(Gal. 2:20 NASB)
In a fascinating footnote to that verse, the Jerusalem Bible adds: "The living acts of a Christian become somehow the acts of Christ." (Gulp!) My critics, and there are and have been many, protest that I write too much about the love of God and not enough about sin and judgment and hell and how to keep Christ in Christmas. They claim that I am unbalanced, unsound, and a little bit crazy. While I plead guilty to that last charge, I am confident that God will raise up other unbalanced, unsound, and crazy writers to cry with me the French Easter liturgy:
L'amour de Dieu est folie! L'amour de Dieu est folie! (The love of God is folly!)
* * *
Elsewhere I've written that Jesus came not only for those who skip morning meditations, but also for real sinners, thieves, adulterers, and terrorists, for those caught up in squalid choices and failed dreams.
I have come to call not The self-righteous, but sinners. (Matt. 9:13)
This is a passage to be read and reread because every generation has tried to dim the blinding brightness of its implications. Those of us scarred by sin are called to closeness with Him around the banquet table. The kingdom of God is not a subdivision for the self-righteous or for those who lay claim to private visions of doubtful authenticity and boast they possess the state secret of their salvation. No, as Eugene Kennedy notes, "it is for a larger, homelier, and less self-conscious people who know they are sinners because they have experienced the yaw and pitch of moral struggle." The men and women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their own imperfect existence.
For twenty-one years, I tried desperately to become Mother Teresa. I lived around the world in griming poverty and depersonalizing squalor. I lived voluntarily for six months in the garbage dump in Juarez, Mexico—garbage there as high as your ceilings. It was a place filled with everyone from four- and five-year-old children to senior citizens in their eighties, all crawling over broken whiskey bottles and dead animals, just to find something to eat or possibly sell to hawkers on the side of the road. I've lived voluntarily as a prisoner in a Swiss prison; the warden there believed priests shouldn't be chaplains but actual prisoners. Only the warden knew my identity. I've lived on the streets of New York City with eleven-, twelve-, and thirteen-year-old prostitutes, both boys and girls, and ministered to them through Covenant House. I just knew if I could become a replica of Mother Teresa, then God would love me.
Pretty impressive, right? Yeah, right.
That's just a part of who I am. The rest of Brennan Manning is a bundle of paradoxes and contradictions. I believe in God with all my heart. And in a given day when I see a nine-year-old girl raped and murdered by a sex maniac or a four-year-old boy slaughtered by a drunken driver, I wonder if God even exists. As I've said before, I address Him and I get discouraged. I love and I hate. I feel better about feeling good. I feel guilty if I don't feel guilty. I'm wide open, I'm locked in. I'm trusting and suspicious. I'm honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I'm a rational animal. But I'm not. That's some of the rest of Brennan.
* * *
Ironically it was April Fool's Day, 1975, 6:30 a.m., and I woke up in a doorway on Commercial Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I was thick in an alcoholic fog, sniffing vomit all over my sweater, staring down at my bare feet. I didn't know a wino would steal my shoes during the night to buy a bottle of Thunderbird, but one did. I had been out on the street for a year and a half, drunk every day, sleeping on the beach until the cops chased me away. You could find me in doorways or under the bridge, always clutching my precious little bottle of Tequila. And it wasn't just that this good Franciscan priest drank too much. I broke every one of the Ten Commandments six times Tuesday: adultery, countless acts of fornication, violence to support my addiction, character assassination to anybody who dared to criticize me or remonstrate with me.
The morning I woke up in the alcoholic boozy fog, I looked down the street to see a woman coming toward me, maybe twenty-five years old, blonde, and attractive. She had her son in hand, maybe four years old. The boy broke loose from his mother's grip, ran to the doorway, and stared down at me. His mother rushed in behind him, tucked her hand over his eyes, and said, "Don't look at that filth. That's nothing but pure filth." Then I felt her shoe. She broke two of my ribs with that kick.
That filth was Brennan Manning, thirty-two years ago. And the God I've come to know by sheer grace, the Jesus I met in the grounds of my own self, has furiously loved me regardless of my state—grace or disgrace. And why? For His love is never, never, never based on our performance, never conditioned by our moods—of elation or depression. The furious love of God knows no shadow of alteration or change. It is reliable. And always tender.
So I am proud only of those days that we pass in undivided tenderness.
My experience of His furious love often fills me with a fury as well when I hear well-known preachers and televangelists distorting Abba's image. Jesus says, "Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you" (John 15:4 MSG). Home is a place of welcoming love, nonjudgmental acceptance, accompanied by many signs of affection. His invitation to intimacy is startling, contrary to all the pontifications of certain religious leaders and champions of deuteronomic morality. Their unbending rule-keeping petrifies His furious compassion. This should not be so.
The awesome love of our invisible God has become both visible and audible in Jesus Christ, the glory of the only Son filled with enduring love. The apostle Paul prays for us all in Ephesians 3:17–19 (NASB):
That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all t He saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love Of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the full Ness of God.
Do you hear what Paul is saying? The love of Christ is beyond knowledge. We've got to let go of our impoverished, circumcised, traditionalist, legalistic, human perceptions of God and open ourselves to the God in Jesus Christ. If we will, the promise is that we will be filled up with the fullness of God. That is truly good news!
So much of what was presented to me as real in bygone days, I now see as fictitious. The splenetic god of alternating moods, the prejudiced god partial to Catholics, the irritated god disgusted with believers, the warrior god of the "just" war, the fickle god of casuistic morality, tut-tutting our little weaknesses, the pedantic god of the spiritually sophisticated, the myriad of gods who imprisoned me in the house of fear; I could go on.
Von Balthasar's credo rings true to me: "Love alone is credible." The real God of unrestricted love corresponds to the Jesus of my journey.
The closer I come to death, the less inclined I am to limit the wisdom and infinity of God. The confession of John the apostle that God is love is the fundamental meaning of the holy and adorable Trinity. Put bluntly, God is sheer Being-in-Love and there was never a time when God was not love. The foundation of the furious longing of God is the Father who is the originating Lover, the Son who is the full self-expression of that Love, and the Spirit who is the original and inexhaustible activity of that Love, drawing the created universe into itself.
* * *
To be careless in the presence of words ... is to violate a fundamental morality.
—N. Scott Momaday
It is always beneficial to acknowledge that books can be deceptive. The most lyrical prose on the furious longing of God creates the illusion that we have already arrived at beatitude. Then after reading a paragraph or so, you have to return to the sheer ordinariness of your life, to days that bring the same thing over and over again, the drudgery of routine; as the Buddhists say, "the laundry." Rather than being appalled by the discontinuity between the poetic and interesting and the prosaic and mundane, it serves well to fasten on the utter delight of a loving God who is deeply touched that, in the brouhaha of your busy life, you would devote even five minutes to spiritual reading.
A similar and more sophisticated snare entices the writer. After a scintillating sentence such as "You belong to the quivering coterie of the debauched languishing in exile" or some such breathtaking words on "the coruscating beauty of the living God," the writer discovers with alarm that his prose has made him artificial and insincere. Slavish attention to precise and proper words can seduce the author into a certain kind of posturing with the catastrophic result that he or she loses touch with his or her broken humanity. The danger of elegant accomplishment besets every artist. What to do? All I have learned through trial and error is to stay alert and aware, especially of God smiling at our silliness.
1. There is the "you" that people see and then there is the "rest of you." Take some time and craft a picture of the "rest of you." This could be a drawing, in words, even a song. Just remember that the chances are good it will be full of paradox and contradictions.
2. I listed some fictitious gods presented to me in the past: the splenetic god, the prejudiced god, the irritated god. Come up with at least one more, from your history, to help round out the list.CHAPTER 3
I'd like to draw your attention to one of those deeply moving passages in chapter 11 of Luke's gospel. It is one that has had a profound impact on my personal life. In the scene, Jesus appears to be exhausted with ministry; He's had it up to here with people and He wants to be alone, so He steals away from the crowd to find a quiet place to pray. In a very short time, the disciples notice His absence and set out in pursuit. As they pass through the Kidron Valley, they almost stumble over Jesus. He's on the ground, mute, motionless, utterly absorbed in prayer. They had never seen a man pray before as Jesus prayed. They wanted to pray as Jesus prayed.
So when at last He arose from the ground, one of the disciples said, Lord, teach us to pray. It was in the words that followed that Jesus of Nazareth revealed to women and men of all ages the true face of God. He said to them, "When you pray, say,"
Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation. (Luke 11:2–4 NASB)
Excerpted from the furious longing of God by Brennan Manning. Copyright © 2009 Brennan Manning. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.