I’m reading a book by one of my favorite Christian authors, the late Brennan Manning. If ever there was a prophet of Grace in our time, it was him. The book is called The Furious Longing of God. He is also the author of the beautiful, and transformational book, The Ragamuffin Gospel.
Well, I haven’t been able to rush through this book to the finish because he writes things that are so powerful to me, that they stop me. I have to pause. I have to think about it and savor what I have already read before moving on to something else.
I wanted to share something of what I have read — a story he related in the book that so moved me and astounded me that I can’t get past it until I share it. It’s about the time he was ministering in a leper colony in Carville, Louisiana. It’s the only leper colony in the United States, just 20 miles southwest of Baton Rouge. He would go often to visit the victims of this cruel disease.
He recalled one experience that brought me to tears. He said that when he was there one time, a nurse came running to him and asked him to come quickly to be with a woman named Yolanda, who was dying.
He took his holy oils with him, to anoint her, and he went into her room and sat on the edge of her bed. This woman was only 35 years old. Just five years before, she was a stunning woman, he surmised. He said she wasn’t just cute or pretty, but a blinding physical beauty. He said she had the largest, most mesmerizing, translucent brown eyes he’d ever seen. Her cheekbones were high. Her long brown hair was to her waist, which was slender and beautiful. But that was before the disease took her.
As he sat there, he saw a disfigured face, nose pressed against her face, mouth contorted, ears, distended. She was a woman with no fingers. All she had left were two little stumps. Her husband had divorced her, unable to deal with the stigma of being married to a leper. He had also forbidden their two sons to visit. The father was an alcoholic with violent mood swings, so the boys didn’t dare disobey. She was abandoned, dying alone.
Brendan anointed Yolanda with oil and prayed with her. When he turned around to put the top back on the bottle of oil, he said, “the room was filled with a brilliant light.” He thanked God for the sunshine, because before it had been raining and gloomy.
When he turned back to look at Yolanda, he said he was astonished by what he saw. “Her face was like a sunburst over the mountains, like one thousand sunbeams streaming out of her face, literally so brilliant I had to shield my eyes.”
She told him that she was very happy, and he asked her why. She said, “the Abba of Jesus just told me that He would take me home today.”
Earlier in the chapter, he had talked about the French biblical scholar, Pierre Benoit, saying that he believed that the Abba of Jesus spoke to his son the words from the Song of Songs, 2:10-14, as his son hung naked, nailed to a cross.
As Brennan sat with Yolanda, and she expressed her happiness, his face streamed with tears, because she told him what the Abba of Jesus had told her. It was this same passage – the one that is believed to be what Abba told his son as he died.
COME NOW, MY LOVE. MY
LOVELY ONE, COME.
FOR YOU, THE WINTER HAS
PASSED, THE SNOWS ARE OVER
AND GONE, THE FLOWERS
APPEAR IN THE LAND, THE
SEASON OF JOYFUL SONGS HAS COME.
THE COOING OF THE TURTLE-DOVE
IS HEARD IN OUR LAND.
COME NOW, MY LOVE. MY
LET ME SEE YOUR FACE. AND
LET ME HEAR YOUR VOICE, FOR
YOUR VOICE IS SWEET AND
YOUR FACE IS BEAUTIFUL
COME NOW, MY LOVE, MY
LOVELY ONE, COME.
Just six hours later, Yolanda was gone, swept up into the love of her Abba. Brennan was more astonished when he learned from the staff of the colony that Yolanda was illiterate and had never read the Bible, or any book in her entire life. Brennan said he had never told her those words in any of his visits. He said he left the colony that day a man undone.
Now, I can move on. But, this story will stick with me and one day, I hope to hear those words welcome me into my Abba’s arms. I remember reading that passage and weeping, to think that Abba welcomed Amber, and later, Brennan himself, in this same way.
Thank you, Abba for your love. Thank you for souls like Brennan’s, and Yolanda’s. Be with all who read this, in your grace. Let them feel your furious longing for them.