The Spiritual Landscape
A Battered Soul on a Voyage of Discovery: Brennan Manning and Greg Garrett's "The Prodigal"
Anyone who has spent time preaching or teaching knows that stories communicate truths far more powerfully than almost any other form of writing. We take stories more freely and easily into our hearts. We remember them longer. We find our place in them more readily.
Ironically, though, it is very difficult to tell a religious story. Leave the story told in an open-ended fashion without specific content and you may fail to communicate your point. Drive your reader too predictably to the point and the narrative loses its power. In The Prodigal Brennan Manning and Greg Garrett found a way to thread the needle between the two extremes.
The gift is a story that conveys a lifetime of writing and speaking by one who considered himself "a battered soul on a voyage of discovery." Gently, without being heavy-handed, the story of Jack Chisholm invites us to draw that conclusion about his life and ours.
It is not necessarily a welcome message in our therapeutic culture, which is anxious for us to feel good about ourselves and restive about a God who is bent on making us feel bad. But the story that Brennan and Greg tell takes us gently away from that false dichotomy. Instead, what we are given is the inescapable truth about ourselves and about God: That we are broken and that God is always ready to forgive us.
There is nothing easy about that voyage of discovery. Not because God makes it hard, but because we find it difficult to be honest with ourselves and with those around us. Brennan knew that and talked about the complexity of coming to grips with the truth in his own life.
In this final offering, he makes it clear that the very effort to be honest before God may well define the task that lies at the heart of the spiritual life. It is not, as some suppose, a mystical experience, or transcendent high. It is not, as others suppose, encounters with silence and emptiness. Nor, as still others suppose, is it the task of spiritual discipline. It is the elemental business of shedding the masks behind which we hide, until we are able to own our prodigal nature as human beings who are deeply flawed, but greatly loved. For that reminder, we owe both Brennan and Greg our thanks.
Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He and his wife, Natalie live in Chicago, Illinois. He can also be reached at: http://frederickwschmidt.com/