Bringing Back Ragamuffin
Why Radical Vulnerability is Making a Comeback
Brennan Manning was a Marine, Franciscan priest, and alcoholic in recovery who left the church to get married and then divorced. He shared about his secretive struggle with alcohol, sin, lust, the gambit of the human experience over decades of writing, speaking and leading spiritual retreats. Even in his last work, All is Grace, he hints at more dishonesty and struggle, further solidifying him as an unlikely saint who is stained by the world, but on fire for God.
His life was a “ground zero for the explosive power of the scandalous message of grace that possessed [his] heart, then rippled outward.”[i]
In his writing, Manning describes the ragamuffin as a pilgrim in recovery, a wandering seeker not in flowing vestments, but in tattered rags, who comes to the cross of life with tired, yet joyful eyes. They understand the depth of healing that can be found through reckless honesty. Not putting on airs or pretending to have it all together, but being real about the soul transforming (sometimes soul crushing) life.
Why Vulnerability is a Strength in Recovery and Life
In western culture, vulnerability is often linked with weakness.[ii] To be strong and silent about struggles is strength, while sharing weaknesses implies deficit or lacking.
We should be able to manage on our own. Keep it together. Hide our dark secrets and shameful pasts under a mask of strength. Just get through this.
The word vulnerable has its Latin roots in the word “vulners” meaning wound. Early on in my recovery journey, my first sponsor showed me the counter cultural power of vulnerability, of taking our wounds and sharing them with others. I saw how walking through things like “the steps” and whispering around an open table several nights a week (confession) started healing the wounds in me that festered for years. Bringing my aching soul to the table started changing me. Tamara Dottin says that radical vulnerability “is a concept that honors being vulnerable as a radical act of healing for the self and the community.”[iii]
How Do I Practice Radical Vulnerability?
Have you ever walked into a room with an open circle of chairs, maybe some stale coffee, and heard a resounding and lovely chorus of me-toos?
Have you experienced a ray of vulnerability that cracks the cement of hearts and over time, hour-by-hour, heals lifetimes of hurt? Have you, like Brennan Manning, let your inner ragamuffin out?
A friend of mine says:
“If I share that something is wrong with me, then I have to own up to the fact that it is. And worse, I have to do something about it.”
For all of my list-lover friends: Here are a couple of tips for getting it all out there if you are feeling the pull to be more vulnerable in your own life:
1. Find one person that you trust and tell all
You don’t have to tell the whole world your story. Your story belongs to you. You can start by sharing with one person and see what happens in your heart.
2. Recognize your faults, weaknesses and character defects can serve a purpose
Even though the world may say that we should hide our weaknesses and struggles, we can trust that sharing them serves a purpose. Think back to the first time you heard someone share openly about their struggle with addiction or mental health. Did their own vulnerability help you? You can have that same impact on others.
3. Join a community of fellow ragamuffins
"Sweeping social change often begins as a ripple in quiet places: conversations around the kitchen table, in church basements, on school campuses," recovery advocate and author Ryan Hampton said in a recent article.[iv] There are millions of people in recovery being vulnerable and learning from each other. This vulnerability is impacting individual lives and also the collective life of the recovery community, too. It's also happening in churchy and church-ish spaces.
Maybe it’s time you find your fellow ragamuffins.
Brennan Manning’s vulnerability shows me a simple, lovely truth. We can step into the light and out of the shadows. When we open up and share our true selves with others, healing can happen. How tenderly God looks on his ragamuffins with love.
Want to share your story of recovery and resilience? Check out my submission guidelines on Bright Story Shine (my old-school blog) today!
references for more reflection
[i] Retrieved from https://relevantmagazine.com/faith/ragamuffin-legacy/. [ii] Andi Schwartz (2020) Radical vulnerability: selfies as a Femme-inine mode of resistance, Psychology & Sexuality, DOI: 10.1080/19419899.2020.1810745 [iii] Retrieved from https://www.huemonize.me/blog/2020-06-30-radical-vulnerability-8ryyn. [iv] Retrieved from: https://www.statnews.com/2022/02/04/recovery-community-organizations-need-more-than-bake-sales/.