A Brief Review of
Reviewed by Michelle Van Loon.
I am loved.
When was the last time you finished a book and said those words?
Brennan Manning, a former Catholic priest, recovering alcoholic and author of touchstone Christian titles including The Ragamuffin Gospel and Ruthless Trust, has devoted his life to mapping the intersection of human brokenness and God’s grace. His body of work shows that he is not threatened by the messy parts and gray areas found there, or is he afraid of inviting his readers to surrender to God’s transforming forgiveness.
Patched Together captures the essence of Manning’s life message. The gift-sized book contains the parable of Willie Juan from childhood through the end of his days. Those familiar with Manning’s work will recognize two of the three Willie Juan stories in the book, as the first one was previously published in The Boy Who Cried Abba, and the first two can be found in The Journey Of The Prodigal. They’ve been reframed in Patched Together along with a new final chapter about Willie Juan’s life.
Manning explains the three-act format in his introduction to the book. “The book is divided into three sections: Morning, Noon, and Night. I’ve written this book in the Night of my life. Morning and Noon have passed; I’ve grown old and feeble and almost blind. For some years now I’ve written about how much Abba loves ragamuffins. Sometimes, these days, I wrestle to believe what I wrote. Knowing that you’re reading and wrestling along with me means more than you know.”
Patched Together is simply the spiritual biography/parable of ragamuffin Willie Juan. We meet him as an abandoned, disabled, multi-racial boy in the first movement of the book, and limp with him through his hardscrabble life to his first encounter with the Man of Sorrows. The second chapter of the book, Noon, lets us tag along with the now-healed, successful adult Willie Juan as he conquers the world and nearly loses his restored soul. The new chapter in Willie Juan’s life, Night, carries his story to its shimmering conclusion. There is a gentle, pastoral afterward meant to nurture connection with the Abba that Manning knows so intimately.
Manning also knows Willie Juan intimately. He is Manning. He is you and I as well. Willie Juan’s story is the best kind of tale because it is saturated with the truth of our human condition as well as a “through the mirror darkly” glimpse into the stunning, complete nature of God’s redemption.
Is this a perfect book? No. The final chapter has a different, stuttering rhythm to it, perhaps because its story is still being written in the author’s own life. However, Manning understands the clumsy beauty of soul-in-process better than almost anyone else writing today. Patched Together would make a wonderful gift for anyone who needs to feel God’s love for him or her.
And that’s all of us.