New Read: The Return of the Prodigal Son

As a practicing Christian, I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and I am very lucky that my church has it’s own book club to help me with this. In June, we read and discussed Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey. The group takes a break over summer, but I thought I would get ahead by reading The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen; believing it had replaced But Is It Real? by Amy Orr-Ewing as our September book… however it turns out the books have been switched back round! Oh well – I had almost finished this when I found out and I still have plenty of time to read Orr-Ewing’s book as well before our meeting in September.

In The Return of the Prodigal Son, the bestselling writer and pastor, Henri Nouwen chronicles how a chance encounter with a poster of Rembrandt’s painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son, catapulted him into a long spiritual adventure. That saw him making a pilgrimage to the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg to see the original in the flesh and undertaking deep, personal meditation; that led him to discover the place within which God has chosen to dwell.

Inspired by Rembrandt’s powerful depiction of the Gospel story, Nouwen probed the several elements to the parable: the younger son’s return, the father’s restoration of sonship, the elder son’s resentment and the father’s compassion. Broken down into three parts with three short chapters each, Nouwen describes and discusses concisely each element and how he feels about them. With this lay out it meant I was able to take my time and easily dip in and out of this book, which gave me plenty of time to think and reflect.

The themes of homecoming, affirmation and reconciliation contained in this book will resonate with all of us who have ever experienced loneliness, dejection, jealousy or anger. I was also interested in how Nouwen felt that he and many of us have probably been both the younger and elder son at some point in our lives; even if you initially feel sympathy for one or the other. But the point is not which son we are, instead the challenge is to be able to love like the father and to be loved as the son, which Nouwen believed was the ultimate revelation of this parable.

Overall I thought The Return of the Prodigal Son was an inspiring guide that helped me to look at this well-known parable with fresh eyes, and I think it should make for an interesting discussion point. My church’s book club should meet sometime in October to discuss this – I think I will repost this review then, with the extra thoughts from the group for you. Good read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Henri Nouwen?

I am also including this book towards my What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge, as a title with the word ‘the’ used twice (3/6).

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12 thoughts on “New Read: The Return of the Prodigal Son

  1. I’ll look forward to reading about your book club discussion. This author’s name seems famiiar somehow – not sure why, I don’t think I’ve read him.
    Lynn 😀

    1. Lynn, I thought the exactly the same thing as I was reading this. So after I finished it, I checked my kindle and I apparently have read Life of the Beloved by Nouwen, although he didn’t use his middle initials on that one. Unfortunately, I remember little to nothing about it! Might be high-time for a re-read! 😀

  2. This one sounds enlightening. I’m glad that you found it so. Enjoy your group discussion when time comes, and tell us all about it. 🙂

  3. I was always intrigued by this Bible story because I was rather the black sheep in my family. It all came out right in the end though. I am glad to know this gave you good reflections.

    1. Judy, what I found so interesting about this book was how Nouwen took a parable, that we all think we already know so well, and looked at in a new and in-depth way. I’m sorry to hear you felt you were the black sheep of your family, but really pleased it all came out alright in the end. 🙂

  4. This sounds excellent and I think I’ll put it on my wish list. Interestingly enough, I just took my Nouwen book (The Wounded Healer) off my shelf this week. I’ve only read the introduction so far, but look forward to getting into the heart of it.

    1. Thank you Lory 🙂 It is good to hear you have been really inspired by other writings by Nouwen – I look forward to reading more by him. Although I am pretty sure I have previously read his Life of the Beloved, but sadly I remember nothing about it!

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