In The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning relates a story told by Richard Selzer in Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery. A surgeon, Selzer was forced to sever the facial nerve of a young, newlywed woman in order to remove a tumor. When she inquired as to whether her face would remain twisted and palsied, the surgeon informed her that it would, since he was forced to cut the nerve. The poignancy of the moment is accentuated when her young husband ended the silence by stating that he thought it was cute. He then twisted his own lips to accommodate hers and pressed his lips against hers, confirming his love and showing her that their kiss still worked.
In the chapter that follows Manning discusses the way that our loving, gracious God has responded to our sin-mangled lives in much the same way. He suggests three responses we should make to such love. These are:
First, the love of Christ and His gospel of graces calls for a personal, free, and unconventional decision. To respond is to acknowledge that the other has taken the initiative and issued the invitation. The other’s overture has made a response necessary.
Second, our response to the love of Jesus demands trust. Do we rely on our résumé or the gospel of grace? How do we cope with failure? Grace tells us that we are accepted just as we are. We may not be the kind of people we want to be, we may be a long way from our goals, we may have more failures than achievements, we may not be wealthy or powerful or spiritual, we may not even be happy, but we are nonetheless accepted by God, held in his hands. Such is his promise to us in Jesus Christ, a promise we can trust.
The third characteristic of our response to the gratuitous intervention of Jesus in our lives is heartfelt gratitude. In O. Henry’s famous short story “The Gift of the Magi (free download),” the young wife has only $1.87 to buy her husband a gift, and Christmas is the next day. Impulsively she decides to sell her long, thick hair to buy him a chain for his treasured gold watch. At the same moment he is selling the watch to buy his present for her—special combs for her beautiful hair. Have you ever done such an extravagant thing spontaneously? Gone off and emptied the piggy bank because a certain gift was perfect for someone you cherished?
Well, I’ve shared a bit of the flavor of each of these points. Hopefully, this gives you a sense of what Brennan is talking about in this chapter called, “Grazie, Signore.” One additional section of this chapter ties all of this together, helping us to understand the title of the chapter and much, much more:
Amadeus was a remarkable film centered on two powerful and contrasting figures: Antonio Salieri, court composer to the Austrian emperor, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a brash and conceited young genius. “Someone described his life as wine, women and song. And he didn’t sing much” (Burghardt, 43). The limited, uninspired Salieri lives with a raging jealousy for the limitless, God-given talent of Mozart. Yet after every laborious score that he writes, Salieri whispers, “Grazie, Signore.” Thank you, Lord. This song of Salieri lies at the heart of our response to the graciousness of God and the gospel of grace.
Thus, we are struck by the profundity of this section, which is placed almost exactly in the middle of this exultation in grace, along with a poignant description of the compelling nature of grace. The nineteen pages of this chapter are summarized in nine lines of prayerful thanksgiving.
Grazie, Signore, for Your lips twisted in love to
accommodate my sinful self; for judging me not by
my shabby good deeds but by Your love that is Your gift
to me; for Your unbearable forgiveness and infinite
patience with me; for other people who have greater
gifts than mine; and for the honesty to acknowledge that
I am a ragamuffin. When the final curtain falls and
You summon me home, may my last whispered word
on earth be the wholehearted cry, “Grazie, Signore.”