Friday, July 25, 2014

Henri Nouwen, The Prodigal Son

Returning: Reflections on The Return of the Prodigal Son

"As I look from God's welcoming love into the world, I discover that God loves with a divine love, a love that cedes to all woman and men their uniqueness without ever comparing."

"The leap of faith always means loving without expecting to be loved in return, giving without wanting to receive, inviting without hoping to be invited, holding without asking to be held. And every time I make a little leap, I catch a glimpse of the One who runs out to me and invites me into his joy...." 

"In the context of a compassionate embrace, our brokenness may appear beautiful, but brokenness has not other beauty but the beauty that comes from the compassion that surrounds it." 

~ Henri Nouwen, The Return of the The Prodigal Son.

This is my first Henri Nouwen book. I looked at it and thought "This is a slim book, I'll have it finished in a day."  Wrong. Five days later, I am still reading. The the truth in this book is falling on my mind like rain... it is refreshing and life-giving, but I must stand still to let it soak me all the way through.
And I want to soak this stuff in. 

Henri Nouwen was deeply moved by Rembrandt's painting, The Prodigal Son. Most of us have probably glanced at a Rembrandt work, and we think we know the prodigal son story, but Henri pored over this painting, and as he looked he meditated on the parable as it is found in Luke 15. 

His own experiences, what he had learned about life and God, found their center in this parable and this painting, and he shares his story in this book. 

By the end of this book I can see parts of the beauty in this painting thanks to Henri's words. 
And not only the obvious aesthetics either, but the truth expressed in art. 
Rembrandt's own lasciviousness, his own heartbreak and losses, his own spiral of darkness, all influenced his work. Henri suggests that there is a change in Rembrandt's paintings as he grows older, one that culminates in The Prodigal Son.
When he was young he painted himself, drunk and carousing in a brothel, with the light glinting off of his sneering eyes and flashing finery. 
When he was old, he painted himself as a tender, blind old man, welcoming his son home, with light shining out of his face and hands. Is it possible that Rembrandt realized that the only light that lasts is the one that shines out of you, not the one that momentarily reflects off your earthly glory?

It is seamless, Henri's own transparency and humility, his thoughts on the painting, and his meditations on the parable. It all comes together. He returns the parable to what it should be, not a mere dusty metaphor died up and dead a few thousand years ago, or a simplistic tale, but the real story of every man and woman looking for their Home. 

Henri Nouwen appears to be one of those rare people of faith whose words are actually accessible to seekers. I would feel comfortable giving this book to anyone. 
You know how some Christians talk about this certain book that they re-read every year? 
It could certainly be this one. 

Another thing I liked? The front cover folds out and there is a little copy of the painting, so you can look at it from time to time. 

"I will discover the joys of the second childhood: comfort, mercy, and an ever-clearer vision of God. And as I reach home and feel the embrace of my Father, I will realize that not only heaven will be mine to claim, but that earth as well will become my inheritance, a place where I can live in freedom without obsessions or compulsions." ~ Henri Nouwen 

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