By Faith J. H. McDonnell (@Cuchulain09)
Poet Vachel Lindsay wrote “General William Booth Enters Heaven” in 1913 as a tribute to the founder of The Salvation Army. In each of the poem’s stanzas Lindsay describes the throngs of the sinful and broken dregs of society — prostitutes, drug fiends, lepers, convicts, the blind and the lame — all conquests of God’s love through Booth’s passion for the lost: Every slum had sent its half-a-score/The round world over. (Booth had groaned for more.) The poet tells that these “unwashed legions” are transformed in an instant into kings and princes and queens when they are “by the Lamb set free.” With Booth, they “marched on spotless, clad in raiment new,” into Heaven.
I was reminded of this poem when I met Brennan Manning, the author, speaker, and “ragamuffin” who proclaimed the good news of God’s grace and unconditional love. Because salvation is by grace through faith, Brennan said that among the “countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb,” he fully expected to see: the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son . . . the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick’, whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school. (Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out)
Today I was again reminded of the Lindsay poem when I heard that on Friday, April 12, after some years of declining health, Brennan had run forever into his Abba’s arms. The former Franciscan priest, who struggled all his life with alcoholism, said that we “are the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith.”
On a video publicizing Brennan’s last book, All is Grace, there are comments by those whose lives have been transformed by the message of grace and love. One man writes, “This man took a spiritual dagger to the bottom of a very heavy suitcase I refused to set down; he healed the Father image, and lightened my burden.” Another says, “Someday, I can tell you what your words healed in my broken heart. . . When we sit at a banquet together in the presence of our Abba.”
Now, as He did for the General of the ragamuffins before, Christ has come “gently with a robe and crown” to this ragamuffin writer and teacher, who gave hope to so many others in that multitude. Like Booth, Brennan has trophies of grace to lay at the feet of his Lord.