Monday, April 15, 2013

Poor in Spirit

Brennan Manning, author photo in his book, All Is Grace

When Brennan Manning died last Friday, the world lost a champion for the poor in spirit. Though he was a Franciscan priest, a gifted teacher, and the writer of a treasure trove of spiritual books, he would have called himself poor of spirit. His long struggle with alcoholism took him far beyond the holy hush of his vows to the depths of hell on earth. A kind stranger peeled him off the pavement in New Orleans, a step in a process of recovery that lasted the rest of his life. The first beatitude says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." May he be so blessed.

Brennan after his stroke, with All Is Grace co-author John Blase. People who smile that openly, that joyfully, are usually children.

 I would say he earned his place, but there's no earning the kingdom of heaven, no matter what most of the Christian churches in this country and beyond try to tell you. There is only the unconditional surrender of your heart, and I like to think Brennan succeeded. I like the idea of succeeding rather than earning.

Few want to be poor in spirit, or poor in any way. Most want to bless the world with their achievements, their generosity, their sheer awesomeness. The poor in spirit confess their multiple deficiencies without being the least bit proud of them, or even ashamed of them. It is then that the spiritual blessings begin to transfuse in, mostly so slowly they don't notice.

Anuvittasana. This is a tough pose to do well. The model could stand to initiate the pose through lengthening her spine upward and lifting her heart, rather than leaning back and initiating the bend from the low back.

My first and most beloved yoga teacher, Shar Lee, exhorts students to give up their hearts to God in back bends. That's a natural teaching for me, as I often experience emotion and insight through physical exertion. In Anuvittasana, Standing Back Bend, Shar invites students to initiate the back bend through the lifting of the heart and the ribcage, rather than through the low back and hips. For me, this pose is the physical expression of surrendering the heart, and a baby step in the process at that. Through this pose, I gain insight into the technical difficulty of surrender.

Brennan Manning was a master at the art of surrender. He made no claim of being chosen. He acknowledged the difficulty of life, his own and those of all the other ragamuffins he loved and wrote about. Ragamuffins couldn't gussy themselves up in furs and perfumes to go before their Maker even if they wanted to. They come to the feast as they are.

Leonard Cohen says it well, in "Anthem:" "Every heart, every heart/to love will come/but like a refugee."

I highly recommend this book. I love the cover photo. It invites readers to offer themselves, even in pieces.

In "Anthem," Leonard Cohen also sings:

"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in."

Rest in peace, Brennan.

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