From Bystander to Beloved

 

I have started reading Henri Nouwen’s ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son- A Story of Homecoming’ (1992). I have not moved past the prologue.  It documents the beginning of Nouwen’s fascination with Rembrandt van Rijn’s painting ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’ and how the painting became so spiritually significant to him.

I was intrigued that although Nouwen describes the embrace of the Father as central to the painting, he is quick to point out the roles of the bystanders or observers.  He asserts that we often assume the role of the bystander, rather than active participant, so that we do not have to get too involved. It is safer that way; we stay in control, we keep our distance.  Yet we are constantly invited to come to God directly. Here we assume the posture of the prodigal, with our ear against the Father’s chest, to be held in his forgiveness, love and acceptance.  I relate, as Henri Nouwen did, to the four observers in this famous painting. To be unguarded before the Father is not an easy place to come, much less remain.  I am often away. Nevertheless, the place I am reluctant to go, is precisely where I receive the love and acceptance I long for. I sense the call to come home.  Regardless of my hesitation, I have a place before the Father.

 

God my Father
Embracing the prodigal
Help me to accept this home
Where I must kneel too-
My ear upon your chest

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1661–1669.  262 cm × 205 cm. Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1661–1669.
262 cm × 205 cm. Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

 

 

 

AUTHOR: Adrian Taylor

I'm a third generation strawberry plant propagator, sometimes poet, backyard theologian and part-time mystic. I live in Katikati, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand with my wife Lucy, my son Sam, and daughters Coby and Caris. I enjoy social soccer with the lads and finely crafted IPA.

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