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. After a summer break, we read and met to discuss But Is It Real? by Amy Orr-Ewing. Having got muddled with the order of the books, I actually read our October book, The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen first. So it seemed like a good idea to re-read to refresh my memory before we met.
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.
When my church’s book club group met, just last week, to discuss this we were split on the use of Rembrandt’s painting to discuss this parable: some absolutely loved the visual aide, others found it distracting and at worst some thought it was irrelevant. However we all agreed we enjoyed Nouwen’s in-depth exploration of the parable, looking at the roles of both the younger and the older brother, as well as the father. We all also thought it was a beautiful piece of prose, with some real little gems of wisdom. Many of us had noted down favourite quotes.
All in all, 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, which made for an interesting, if a little contentious, discussion point. Now I am reading The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan for our November meeting. Good read.
Have you read this? Or anything else by Henri Nouwen?