Homepage

SadhanaOriental meditation and christian prayer

Other ways of praying

[9]Praying with masterpieces of painting – Henri Nouwen prays with “The Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt

 As an example, let’s use “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” a book written by Henri Nouwen through prayer with the painting “The Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt.  Here is the outline of what Nouwen was interested in.  Let’s follow his meditative path through the following points of view.  (Because the book is very rich in content, only a limited part of the book is introduced in this section, but I believe you can fully experience the depth of his meditation.)
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
【Runaway from home】 Nouwen writes: 《I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found. Why do I keep ignoring the place of true love and persist in looking for it elsewhere? Why do I keep leaving home where I am called a child of God, the beloved of my Father?》
【Regret a mistake】 《Finally, I chose for containment instead of more dissipation and went to a place where I could be alone. There, in my solitude, I started to walk home slowly and hesitantly, hearing ever more clearly the voice that says: ”You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” /This painful, yet hopeful, experience brought me to the core of the spiritual struggle for the right choice, ・・・・Indeed, it is a question of life or death. Do we accept the rejection of the world that imprisons us, or do we claim the freedom of the children of God? We must choose.》
【Younger son flying into his father’s arms】 Based on the image of the younger son in the painting who flies into his father’s arms, Nouwen considers how our “second innocence” should be. 《Along the route for the journey home , back into the house of my Father, I will discover the joys of the second childhood: comfort, mercy, and an ever clearer vision of God. And as I reach home and feel the embrace of my Father, I will realize that not only heaven will be mine to claim, but that the earth as well will become my inheritance, a place where I can live in freedom without obsessions and compulsions.》
【Younger son is the Infant Jesus】 Nouwen cites an important observation of his friend who looked at the painting together. 《”This is the head of a baby who just came out of his mother’s womb. Look, it is still wet, and the face is still fetus-like.”》 He develops his thoughts as follows. 《Isn’t the little child poor, gentle, and pure of heart? Isn’t the little child weeping in response to every little pain? Isn’t the little child the peacemaker hungry and thirsty for uprightness and the final victim of persecution? ・・・・The eternal Son became a child so that I might become a child again and so re-enter with him into the Kingdom of the Father.》

【Hugging father】 Nouwen says, looking at the father in the painting: 《The loner I looked at” the patriarch” the clearer it became to me that Rembrandt had done something quite different from letting God pose as the wise old head of a family. It all began with the hands. The two are quite different.》《As soon as I recognized the difference between the two hands of the father a new world of meaning opened up for me. The Father is not simply a Great patriarch. He is mother as well as father. He touches the son with a masculine hand and a feminine hand. He holds, and she caresses. He confirms and she consoles. He is, indeed, God, in whom both manhood and womanhood, fatherhood and motherhood, are fully present.》

【People should be able to learn spiritual fatherhood】 《Through Jesus I can become a true son again and, as a true son, I finally can grow to become compassionate as our heavenly Father is.》 Nouwen explains that being “compassionate as our heavenly Father is” is to have “spiritual fatherhood.”  He continues that three paths are required to learn spiritual fatherhood of compassion, which are grief, forgiveness, and generosity.  He says, 《When I consider the immense waywardness of God’s children, our lust, our greed, our violence, our anger, our resentment, and when I look at them through the eyes of God’s heart, I cannot but weep and cry out in grief:
Look, my soul, at the way one human being tries to inflict as much pain on another as possible; look at these people plotting to bring harm to their fellows;
 This grieving is praying.》《Forgiveness is the way to step over the wall and welcome others into my heart without expecting anything in return. Only when I remember that I am the Beloved Child can I welcome those who want to return with the same compassion as that which the Father welcomes me.》《True generosity is acting on the truth ――not on the feeling――that those I am asked to forgive are “kinfolk,” and belong to my family. And whenever I act this way, that truth will become more visible to me. Generosity creates the family it believes in.》
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
 Rembrandt expressed the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 in the painting.  Henri Nouwen crystallized his careful viewing and long meditation on the painting into the book.  This is a good example that shows the abundant potential of praying through masterpieces of painting.

 

 

Return to index>>