May 10, 2013

Book Review - 'The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming'

Last month, in preparation for leading some elective sessions at a retreat, I read Henri Nouwen's, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming.  My short recommendation is this: give it a read!  (Also, no disclaimers necessary this week, this book is for anyone, not just moms.)

The premise of the book comes from the Rembrant painting on the cover, which is a depiction of the return of the prodigal son from Jesus' parable in Luke 15.  Throughout the book, Nouwen shares how contemplation of the painting really "rocked his world," so to speak.  In three sections, he discusses how Christians, beloved children of the living God, can find ourselves in the characters in the story: the wayward younger son, the stiff older son, and the father.

My mind was stretched, for Nouwen asks his readers to consider that God says to us, as He did to Jesus at His baptism, This is my beloved son, with whom I am well-pleased.  How difficult it is to thing of being God's beloved!  Nouwen succinctly states: Belief in total, absolute forgiveness does not come readily. (p 52)  Yet I John 3:1, a verse I've had memorized since my youth firmly states, How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.  And that is what we are!

His children.

I have children.  I wonder what it would be like to have them stray away and think they can't come home.  Or to have they stay and not realize the depth of my love for them.  This might be a tiny taste of how the Father feels about His own.

I appreciate how Nouwen draws his readers in to consider how we are like both the prodigal and the older son.  We are complex, we sinners!  And Nouwen has a way with words that expresses so perfectly how I feel and experience life.  We need God.  Nouwen draws out how we can come home to Him, and find life and joy in Him, from our distant lands of straying to our dutifully religious staying at home.  The Lord is calling.  Beloved!  He's calling us into relationship with Him, calling us home; Nouwen reminds us we must tune our ears to hear and our hearts to believe.

In the final section of the book, Nowen does something very intriguing.  He asks his readers to consider, as he was asked to do by a friend, how we are to be like the father in the story, welcoming in those in need of tender compassion.  Reading through my notes on that section, I found this quote:
This is not the picture of a remarkable father.  This is the portrayal of God, whose goodness, love, forgiveness, care, joy, and compassion have not limits at all.  (p 131)
This is the Spirit that works in us to love and care for those in need of grace, and this is the God who we offer to them.  He's incredible, awesome, wonderful, and mighty!  I had never thought of myself as moving into being the father figure in the story.  Food for thought, indeed.

I suppose we dance around among the three "roles" throughout our days: sometimes so prodigal, sometimes so like the upright son, sometimes being called to minister as the father.  The final section reminds me of Ephesians 2:10:

For you are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for you to do.

I would love to give you quote after quote to encourage you to read this book, but I'm sure most of them are best read in context.  So I leave you to it!

Have a good weekend.  :)

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