God’s Study in Light


Over the past five weeks I have been writing somewhat of an extended book review of Henri Nouwen’s ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son – A Story of Homecoming’.  Through it I have explored the story Jesus told in Luke 15 and Rembrandt van Rijn’s depiction of the story’s human landscape. At the risk of spoiling Nouwen’s conclusion, or worse, not being able to do it justice, I offer my own reflection on what I’ve read.

It is a revelation to me that the point of the story goes far beyond being forgiven and found. The call to be at home is the call to become the Father. It is a journey toward spiritual maturity. It is a call to be grieved by sin, to forgive others and to show generosity far beyond any human ability to do so. The call is from the competition of humanity to the compassion of God the Father. It is an impossible call, the radical nature of which all too often gets sidelined, maligned, downplayed or sentimentalised.  It is a call that is persistent and all pervading, and so our response must reflect this.  The Message translation of Matthew’s gospel gets right to the point, when it renders the words of Jesus’ from the sermon on the mount:

‘In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up.  You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it.  Live out your God-created identity.  Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.’

In conclusion, I find the painting an inspiration and a challenge.  Visual art is often a study in light, and we see that here.  Perhaps the same is true in a spiritual sense.  Just as the Father is the true centre in Rembrandt’s painting, so to our Father is the centre of all things and all light comes from him.  I’m inspired to be God’s study in light.  The challenge is to conquer my doubts that God would ever think of me as art at all.


Compassionate Father

The way you live toward me is beautiful

Help me to become like you

So that I may see

Your artistry in me


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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