Faith Reflections

"Abba, I Belong to You."

Brennan Manning 1934 - 2013
Brennan Manning 1934 – 2013

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook or read this blog regularly, you know that I often quote Brennan Manning. Apart from my parents, no one has had more impact on my life as a follower of Jesus Christ than Brennan. I will forever be grateful for his transparency and his passionate witness to God’s crazy, reckless and extravagant love for all of us ragamuffins. I actually started this blog post last Thursday and Brennan went home to Jesus on Friday. It seems fitting to post it today as a thank you to Brennan but more importantly, as a testimony to our Loving Abba. In the same manner in which he lived, Brennan would not want to be the focus of his own death. I think He would prefer his death point us to God.
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Abba, I belong to You.

Brennan Manning prayed this centering pray each morning and each night for many years. He taught it to others. You breath in as you say “Abba” and you breath out as you say “I belong to You.” You repeat it as you center yourself and think about God, our Abba, our Daddy, and the truth that you are His beloved child. It is based on Song of Solomon 7:12 which reads, “I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me.” Manning’s book The Furious Longing of God is based on the premise that God’s furious longing is for us, His beloved. Actually, most of Manning’s books fall under this premise and is a testament to just how difficult it is for us to get it, believe it and live it. Manning wrote,

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 the affectionate awe tinged by doubt.

God passionately desires us. God is outrageously jealous for us. God is extravagantly wasteful in His love for us.
We belong to Him and God furiously longs for us.
Manning believed that fully grasping that reckless, extravagant and jealous Love and loving God back is how lives are changed. Manning also gave endless personal testimony to how difficult it is some days to believe that. We dance on the border of disbelief – crossing the line sometimes multiple times within a day. We are incredulous some moments when we think about God’s crazy, faithful love knowing full well that we’ve been sleeping around on Him with other gods in our lives. We want to embrace His love but doubt creeps in convincing us that there are exceptions to His grace. There are always exceptions.
Yes. There is an exception. It is the exception to the rule that there are always exceptions. Because in the case of God’s love and grace, there are no exceptions. Why? Because God’s love and grace has nothing to do with me but everything to do with Him. No matter our successes or failures, our devotion or abandonment, our love or apathy, God’s goodness remains. God is not a co-dependent God.
Manning wrote in The Ragamuffin Gospel,

When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and I get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.
To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life’s story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side, I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, ‘A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.’

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Abba, I belong to You.
I started practicing Manning’s daily prayer a couple of months ago – first thing in the morning and the last thing at night on most days. Sometimes I can say it three times and I’m centered. Other times, I repeat it over and over like the Rain man and still don’t get there. But still, it is changing me.

  • It causes me to be still and forces me to listen to the truth that God longs for me – the light and the dark side of me.
  • It interrupts my lame apologies with His Prodigal Father bear hug and sloppy, wet kisses.
  • It reminds me that I bear the name “His beloved” so I know Whose I am and how He feels about me.
  • It is helping me slowly grasp the reckless, extravagant and jealous love of God in ways I never have before.

In Furious Longing, Manning tells the story of meeting a nun who was struggling to heal from sexual abuse as a child at the hands of her father. Manning invited her to find a quiet, secluded place every morning for the next thirty days, sit in a chair, close her eyes, upturn her palms and pray this one phrase over and over, “Abba, I belong to You.”  God brought healing into her life and she discovered the furious longing of our God.
You belong to God. God longs for you. Not your works or good deeds. Not your obedience to religious rules and traditions. Not your acts of benevolence or charity.
God longs for you.
Perhaps Manning’s invitation is something you might consider for the next thirty days. Maybe even right now you can find a quiet space within and without to center yourself and breath in “Abba” and breath out “I belong to You.”
If you do take up the challenge for thirty days, I’d love to hear about your time with our Abba after that month has ended. In the meantime, here is a beautiful song, written by Jonathan David Hesler, based on Manning’s centering prayer.

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