I’ve spent sometime reading through the introduction of The Return of the Prodigal Son this week. I will confess to you that I am not a student of art. I like art and there are works of art that have captured my imagination or reached out and grabbed hold of my spirit. These occasions are not reflective of the norm for me. They are occasional occurrences. I have never been as captivated by a work of art as Nouwen has been of Rembrandt’sThe Return of the Prodigal Son. His love of the painting has inspired me. I want to go visit the painting in person. Is anyone else is up for a Field Trip to St. Petersburg? I want to see the painting but I think they might be the one place on earth that has more snow than we do.
In my core, I long to be captivated in the way Nouwen describes. I long to have his type of deep, spiritual experience. Cognitively, I know that I cannot simply replicate his settings to achieve my own spiritual experience, I must go on my own journey. I must open my own heart and allow myself to be captivated in a way that is authentic to who I am and where I am in my own life.
Isn’t this one of Nouwen’s points early in the book? That when we mine other people and their life experiences for nugget encounters with the divine, we miss the full picture, we miss out on our own journey.
For many years, I tried to get a glimpse of God by looking carefully at the varieties of human experience: loneliness and love, sorrow and joy, resentment and gratitude, war and peace. I sought to understand the ups and downs of the human soul, to discern there a hunger and thirst that only a God whose name is Love could satisfy. I tried to discover the lasting beyond the passing, the eternal beyond the temporal, the perfect love beyond all paralyzing fears, and the divine consolation beyond the desolation of human anguish and agony. I tried constantly to point beyond the mortal quality of our existence to a presence larger, deeper, wider, and more beautiful than we can imagine, and speak about the presence as a presence that can already now be seen, heard and touched by those who are willing to believe….I have been led to an inner place where I had not been before. It is a place within me where God has chosen to dwell. It is the place where I am held safe in the embrace of an all-loving Father who calls me by name and says, “You are my beloved son, on you my favor rests.” It is the place where I can taste the joy and the peace that are not of this world. (Nouwen, 16)
I suppose that is my invitation: To open yourself up to your own spiritual experience where you are captivated by the God of the Wander, the Brother of the Beloved, and the Spirit of Journey.
Thoughts while Readings:
Nouwen mentions that when looking at the painting, he was struck by the fact that he had always played the role of observer. By the time he was writing these words, he had spent a great deal of his life as an active, devoted, faithful Christian; yet he comments that he’d spent most of his life as an observer. (p12) He came to the startling realization that he preferred the role because it was the “safer” role. Being the observer allowed him a greater sense of control. I wonder what it was like for him? What is it like to realize that your life of faith has been marked by being more of an observer than a participant?
Certainly there were many hours of prayer, many days and months of retreats, and countless conversations with spiritual directors, but I had never fully given up the role of bystander. Even though there has been in me a lifelong desire to be an insider looking out, I nevertheless kept choosing over and over again the position of the outsider looking in. Sometimes this looking-in was a curious looking-in, sometimes a jealous looking-in, sometimes an anxious looking-in, and, once in awhile, even a loving looking-in. But giving up the somewhat safe position of the critical observer seemed like a great leap into totally unknown territory. I so much wanted to keep some control over my spiritual journey, to remain able to predict at least a part of the outcome, that relinquishing the security of the observer for the vulnerability of the returning son seemed close to impossible. (Nouwen, 12-13)
Do you recognize yourself reflected in Nouwen’s story? Do you see yourself as a different character? What do you think it would be like to open yourself up to experiencing the Divine Embrace differently?
Jesus says, Anyone who loves me will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home in him. (John 14:23) Nouwen is taken with the idea that he is God’s home. It is an interesting concept to ponder, God dwells in us. What does that mean to you? What does it mean to you on days the days when you do not particularly like yourself?
What else is speaking to your heart and mind in this reading?