My brother has a copy of the Rembrandt painting of The Return of the Prodigal Son outside his office. During a conversation about the painting, he mentioned that one of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen, had written a book about that very painting.
Henri himself had been drawn to a copy of the painting. The original painting was acquired by Catherine the Great in 1766 and installed in The Hermitage, a museum that she founded in St. Petersburg, Russia. Through the courtesy of some friends, Henri was privileged to be allowed to spend many hours contemplating the painting. He relates how he studied the "light-enveloped embrace of the father, the son kneeling before him and the ... mysterious bystanders." He tells how he just looked and watched the interplay of light from the Hermitage window. "I was held spellbound by this gracious dance of nature and art."
Inspired by the painting and having faced a crisis in his own life's journey, Henri turned this experience into a wonderful book, The Return of the Prodigal Son.
Henri observes how Rembrandt painted the two hands of blessing: one is a mother's tender loving hand, the other is a father's strong, firm hand of welcome and support. From his observations and examination of his own life, Henri draws lessons for all of us.
In looking at the painting, then into our own hearts, we see that we are sometimes like the prodigal son - we've run away, too. We are sometimes racked by resentment like the elder brother. And sometimes, with grace, we become the welcoming, forgiving, eager father. I've read the book twice and have only begun to scratch the surface of meaning.
And now, I've discovered Home Tonight: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Edited by Sue Moesteller after Henri Nouwen's death, this book is based on his teaching and writing and every bit as inspiring.