Reading: The Story of Two Sons and Their Father; Prologue: Encounter With a Painting; Introduction: The Younger Son, the Elder Son, and the Father (p. 1 to 23)
At the heart of this adventure is a 17th-century painting and its artist,
a 1st-century parable and its author, and a 20th century person
in search of life’s meaning. (p.3)
Welcome, welcome, welcome to each of you. What a tremendous start to what promises to be a blessed and meaningful Lenten journey. Thanks to those of you who introduced yourselves. We have gathered in this virtual space from the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, the UK, the Netherlands, Hungary and beyond to form a global community to read and discuss this spiritual classic.
Gabrielle Earnshaw–Nouwen scholar and author of the soon-to-be published Henri Nouwen and The Return of the Prodigal Son – The Making of a Spiritual Classic–said that it took Henri nine years to write this book, the longest gestation period of any of his forty books.
As Henri writes in the Prologue, it was during his 1983 visit to L’Arche in France that, “My eyes fell on a large poster pinned on her door. . . . I could not take my eyes away. . . the hands–the old man’s hands as they touched the boys shoulders that reached me in a place where I had never been reached before.” (p.4) It was this “poster moment” and its immediate impact that was the genesis of what became Henri’s most popular work. The image to the left is the poster Henri bought for himself after seeing the poster on Simone’s door.
Then why did it take nine years to complete? As Henri describes in the reading this week, he decided to leave the world of the university to make his home with mentally handicapped core members of the L’Arche Daybreak (just north of Toronto) and their assistants. After his arrival, he experienced a disabling spiritual and emotional crisis. So rather than writing about Rembrandt and the painting, the artist and his masterpiece accompanied Nouwen through his time of transition, healing, and rejuvenation. And, as Henri writes, “Now a time has come where it is possible to look back on those years of turmoil and to describe . . . the place to which all that struggle brought me.” (p. 13) The book we have before us is the result of Henri’s anguished journey and it has been a blessing and a comfort to more than a million readers the world over.
Henri describes in loving detail the time he spent with the painting at the Hermitage. This image is a screenshot from a virtual tour of the Hermitage to give you some sense of what Henri saw when looking from a distance at the eight foot by six foot painting.
On page 13 Henri mentions how he relocated his poster from place to place at Daybreak. This photo shows its current location in the living room of The Cedars, a retreat house at L’Arche Daybreak, which was formerly the Dayspring where Henri found his home. Looking at the poster, he realized, “All of the Gospel is there. All of my life is there. The painting has become a mysterious window through which I can step into the Kingdom of God.” (p. 15)
You are encouraged to share and discuss whatever came up for you in the readings. You are also welcome to share your reflections and insights prompted by the comments of others. The thoughts and insights shared by the participants provides the heartbeat for every Henri Nouwen book discussion. Here are a few questions that may help get the discussion going, but please don’t feel bound to them.
- “Coming home” meant, for me, walking step by step toward the one who awaits me with open arms and wants to hold me in an eternal embrace. (p. 6) What does “coming home” mean for you? Have the readings this week challenged or deepened your understanding?
- As I reflect on my own journey, I become more and more aware of how long I have played the role of observer. . . had I, myself, really ever dared to step into the center, kneel down and let myself be held by a forgiving God? (p. 12) Do you find yourself living life largely as an observer? Are there times you have stepped into center and what was that like?
- I have been led to an inner place where I had not been before. It is the place where God has chosen to dwell. It is the place where I am held safe in the embrace of an all loving father. . . who says, “You are my beloved son.” (p. 16) How do you respond to these two ideas at the heart of Henri’s spirituality–you are the beloved and you are God’s home? Have you experienced this in your life? What was it like?
- I am called to enter into the inner sanctuary of my own being where God has chosen to dwell. The only way to do that is prayer, unceasing prayer. (p. 18) How do you approach your inner sanctuary? What does “prayer, unceasing prayer” mean in your life?
As we enter in to this first week of Lent there is much to share from our reading and we look forward to hearing from many of you. It is an joy to be gathered with each of you, those posting comments, and those following along silently. Everyone is welcome here.
Peace and all good.