The theme for our youth weekend away was based on Luke 15 and the Prodigal Son. Much of my inspiration came from The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen. I first encountered this book on a retreat day at Youthwork the Conference, where we explored how we can resemble each of the characters in the story Jesus told. It really inspired me to look afresh at this parable, and it’s a book I’ve dipped in and out of several times since. In the preparation for the weekend I re-read this book a couple of times, and was challenged afresh personally on the ways in which I rebel from the Father.
Nouwen writes the book as a long meditation that reflects heavily on Rembrandt’s wonderful picture which focuses on his personal journey which he expresses with great honesty. The book then follows the story focussing on each of the three characters. First he talks about how he was drawn to the character of the younger brother and admitting the ways in which he had rebelled. He goes beyond talking about pure rebellion and wrestles with the difficulty in accepting the Father’s forgiveness.
Later on in his life, someone suggested Nouwen had more in common with the elder brother than the prodigal son, and this opened up a whole new level of spiritual understanding for him. This is the character who is often most ignored. Nouwen highlights how the elder brother has rebelled, even if he’s stayed at home. It challenged me on ways in which I work for the Father but don’t truly hang out with the Father. He then challenges the reader to move beyond the two brothers and to attempt to imitate the father. Nouwen closes the book by suggesting several ways in which we can try to develop the divine gift of compassion.
Just after Christmas I discovered Home Tonight: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son which at times has similar material, but takes a more devotional tone. This book provides practical suggestions of things to do, reflect on, and questions to dwell on.
Nouwen is a world class spiritual author and I’ve loved re-reading his writings on Luke 15, and can guarantee that I will come back to them in the next few years.