Nouwen and The Return of the Prodigal Son

the-return-of-the-prodigal-son-1669I am finding myself drawn the beauty that comes from candid concession of  inherent brokenness. Truthful transparency is vulnerability, which by definition, is the “susceptibility to physical or emotional harm.” Yet paradoxically, in it, there is much strength and freedom. There requires a sense of confidence and self awareness when one musters the courage to confess their needs – and thus confess their lack. Confession of lack is to admit that I can do nothing without Jesus.

Today I started reading Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. I was impressed with his self knowledge, his recognition of weakness, and his ability to articulate it with such forthright honesty.  What begins as honest self knowledge and confession turns to Christ awareness and reception.  In this book he speaks of his mesmerizing experience with Rembrandt’s painting, The Prodigal Son, which led him to his reflection of Jesus’ parable on the subject. Initially, Nouwen sensed a personal identification to the youngest son, which drew out his admiration for the painting. He then tells of his subsequent realization that he, in addition to the brash recklessness of the younger son, has also tended towards a behavioural pattern much like the pharisaic older brother.  Even more surprisingly, Nouwen admits that through the words of a friend, he is called live like the father:

“You have been longing for friends all your life; you have been craving for affection as long as I’ve known you; you have been interested in thousands of things; you have been begging for attention, appreciation, and affirmation left and right.  The time has come to claim your true vocation — to be a father who can welcome his children home without asking them any questions and without wanting anything from them in return.  Look at the father in your painting and you will know who you are called to be.”

These words have rung true for me. My hope is to reflect and confess my own weaknesses as I consider Nouwen’s, and, like him, reveal my personal tendency towards the two son’s in the parable, while simultaneously  becoming increasingly aware of the calling to adopt the father’s mantle.