success stories

Posted September 20, 2003

Book: The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Meditation on Fathers, Brothers and Sons
Author: Henri J. M. Nouwen
Doubleday, New York, pp. 142

Excerpt from Jacket:

A chance encounter with a reproduction of Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son catapulted Henri Nouwen on a long spiritual adventure. Here he shares the deeply personal and resonant meditation that led him to discover the place within where God has chosen to dwell.

In seizing the inspiration that came to him through Rembrandt's depiction of the powerful Gospel story, Henri Nouwen probes the several movements of the parable: the younger son's return, the father's restoration of sonship, the elder son's vengefulness, and the father's compassion. In his reflection on Rembrandt in light of his own life journey, the author evokes the powerful drama of the parable in a rich, captivating way that is sure to reverberate in the hearts of readers. The themes of homecoming, affirmation, and reconciliation will be newly discovered by all who have known loneliness, dejection, jealousy, or anger. The challenge to love as the father and be loved as the son will be seen as the ultimate revelation of the parable known to Christians throughout time, and here represented with a vigor and power fresh for our times.

For all who ask "Where has my struggle led me?" or for those "on the road" who have had the courage to embark on the journey but seek the illumination of a known way and safe passage, this work will inspire and guide each time it is read.

Excerpt from Book:

When I first saw the Prodigal Son, I had just finished an exhausting six-week lecturing trip through the United States . . . . I was dead tired, so much so that I could barely walk. I was anxious, lonely, restless, and very needy. During the trip I had felt like a strong fighter for justice and peace, able to face the dark world without fear. But after it was all over I felt like a vulnerable little child who wanted to crawl onto its mother's lap and cry. As soon as the cheering or cursing crowds were gone, I experienced a devastating loneliness and could easily have surrendered myself to the seductive voices that promised emotional and physical rest.

It was in this condition that I first encountered Rembrandt's Prodigal Son on the door of Simone's office. My heart leapt when I saw it. After my long self-exposing journey, the tender embrace of father and son expressed everything I desired at that moment. I was, indeed, the son exhausted from long travels. I wanted to be embraced; I was looking for a home where I could feel safe. The son-come-home was all I was and all that I wanted to be. For so long I had been going from place to place: confronting, beseeching, admonishing, and consoling. Now I desired to rest safely in a place where I could feel a sense of belonging; a place where I could feel at home.

Much happened in the months and years that followed. Even though the extreme fatigue left me and I returned to a life of teaching and traveling, Rembrandt's embrace remained imprinted on my soul far more profoundly than any temporary expression of emotional support. It had brought me into touch with something within me tha lies far beyond the ups and downs of a busy life, something that represents the ongoing yearning of the human spirit, the yearning for a final return, an unambiguous sense of safety, a lasting home. While busy with many people, involved in many issues, and quite visible in many places, the homecoming of the prodigal son stayed with me and continued to take on even greater significance in my spiritual life. The yearning for a lasting home, brought to consciousness by Rembrandt's painting, grew deeper and stronger, somehow making the painter himself into a faithful companion and guide.

Two years after first seeing the Rembrandt poster, I resigned from my teaching position at Harvard University and returned to L'Arche in Trosly, there to spend a full year. The purpose of this move was to determine whether or not I was called to live a life with mentally handicapped people in one of the L'Arche communities. During that year of transition, I felt especially close to Rembrandt and his Prodigal Son. After all, I was looking for a new home. It seemed as though my fellow Dutchman had been given to me as a special companion. Before the year was over, I had made the decision to make L'Arche my new home and to join Daybreak, the L'Arche community in Toronto.

Table of Contents:

The Story of Two Sone and Their Father
Prologue: Encounter with a Painting
Introduction: The Younger Son, the Elder Son, and the Father

Part I: The Younger Son
1. Rembrandt and the younger son
2. The younger son leaves
3. The younger son's return

Part II: The Elder Son
4. Rembrandt and the elder son
5. The elder son leaves
6. The elder son's return

Part III: The Father
7. Rembrandt and the father
8. The father welcomes home
9. The father calls for a celebration

Conclusion: Becoming the Father
Epilogue: Living the Painting