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Nouwen says the painting just as easily could have been called “The Welcome by the Compassionate Father.” In the painting, the father’s hands are the true central point. The light and the eyes of others focus on those hands. The left hand is masculine while the right hand is more feminine. So the character “is mother as well as father” – welcoming, holding and caressing the son. The painting is about the father’s love for both of his sons.

Many people live with secret feelings that they are not worthy of love, or they wonder whether others truly love them. Nouwen felt that way – he rarely felt or experienced the intimacy that he wrote about so often. He suffered from loneliness.

The father of the prodigal son though, invites us to experience joy which can be more difficult than experiencing sadness or frustration. Joy, like gratitude, is a choice. “It requires choosing for the light even when there is much darkness to frighten me, choosing for life even when the forces of death are so visible, and choosing for the truth even when I am surrounded by lies”

Reflect on the picture of the Father and put yourself in his place- Henri asks: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to make God smile by giving God the chance to find me and love me lavishly? What are you doing to open yourself to God’s love? Why is this often difficult? When have you felt unworthy of God’s love??

Please note- This reflection is taken from the 5 week Reading Group discussion booklet published by the Henri Nouwen society. Please click here to get a copy of this guide.


Please click here to view the details of The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J. M. Nouwen

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