Mar 15th to Mar 21st: 3rd Week of Lent – The Elder Son

Reading: Rembrandt and the Elder Son; The Elder Son Leaves; The Elder Son’s
Return (p. 59 t0 88)

Both (the younger son and the elder son) needed healing and forgiveness. Both needed to come home. . . (I)t is clear that the hardest conversion
to go through is the conversion of the one who stayed home. (p. 66)

Let me begin with the words Henri Nouwen’s favorite saint, Francis of Assisi, said when greeting those he met on his journey, “May the Lord give you peace.” It is the Lord’s presence among his people that can give us peace even as we share a Lenten journey unlike any in my lifetime in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We ask that the Lord grant his peace and healing presence in a special way to the ill and suffering and to the medical professionals and others caring for them. It is a great blessing for me during this difficult season to participate in the honest and insightful discussion of The Return of the Prodigal Son that continued apace across our global community last week. This week we turn our attention to the right in Rembrandt’s painting–to the elder son.

Henri begins his reflection on The Elder Son by noting that during Rembrandt’s time “the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector and the parable of the prodigal son were closely linked” (p. 63) and that the elder son represented the Pharisees and the scribes. This insight becomes an interpretive key for Henri who sees this painting “as a work that summarizes the great spiritual battle and the great choices this battle demands.” (p. 63) And what is this spiritual battle? The elder son can “choose for or against the love that is offered to him” as his younger brother already has. Henri then explores how the son who stayed home also became a lost man. “Exteriorly he did all the things a good son is supposed to do, but, interiorly, he wandered away from his father.” (p. 69) Henri show us how the resentment, anger, and judgment of the elder son, like that of the Pharisees of Jesus’ time and people like us up until the present day, makes the “return” of the one who stayed home “the hardest conversion to go through.” Will the elder son choose to turn away (or convert) from his angry resentment in order to accept the Father’s love or not? Will we?

There is much to discuss this week. Please share whatever touched you in the reading to the extent you are comfortable. You might also consider replying to one or more of the following questions.

(T)he standing man looking at the father . . . is the elder son, representing the Pharisees and scribes.” (p.63) How does considering the elder son as a Pharisee or scribe influence your understanding of the parable? Does this understanding help you to see how you or someone you know might be acting as the elder son at times?

“Once the self-rejecting complaint has formed in us, we lose the spontaneity to the extent that even joy can no longer evoke joy in us. . . . Joy and resentment cannot coexist. The music and dancing, instead of inviting joy, become a cause for even greater withdrawal.” (p. 73) Have you ever experienced a situation similar to this? What was it like and how did you respond? What changes did you make in your life as a result?

Although we are incapable of liberating ourselves from our frozen anger, we can allow ourselves to be found by God. . . Trust and gratitude are the disciplines for the conversion of the elder son. (p. 84) How have you responded to feelings of resentment and chronic complaining in your life? Do you see how the disciplines of trust and gratitude might change that response?

Thanks again to each of you for sharing your Lenten journey. Each of you is a valued participant, whether you are posting comments or following along silently. You are all welcome and we’re grateful for your presence.

Blessings and be safe,

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46 Responses to Mar 15th to Mar 21st: 3rd Week of Lent – The Elder Son

  1. Suzanne says:

    This week’s reading on the elder son has had a powerful impact on me. When I look at Rembrandt’s portrayal of the elder brother, I feel a great deal of sympathy for him. So disconnected. Eyes downcast and removed from what’s unfolding. His entire body, including his hands, folded inward, unable, in his self-preoccupation and misery, to connect with or participate in the celebration taking place.
    At times I, like the elder brother, have worked diligently to fulfill the expectations of others. I’ve struggled with the self-rejecting voice that assumed that, if I just found the “right” answer or tried hard enough to find the “perfect” solution that I’d find peace and be protected from the disapproval of others.
    Over the years, I’ve tried talk myself out of those harsh and unrealistic expectations, using various means to quell the gnawing perfectionism and resulting disconnection from God. Some have been helpful long-term, others short-term and some not at all.
    What I’ve come to realize over these many years though, is that my relationship with God is not a project but a fluid, ongoing dance. What I hadn’t been aware of in particular, and that this section of the book has illuminated, is that my part in the dance includes cultivating a discipline of trust and gratitude. Not just an aspiration or hazy desire but a regularly practiced, focused, compassionate discipline. Practicing trust in an intentional way.

    • Christopher Ciummei says:

      We all are invited to practice that dance! We can’t do it alone! And it’s people, through God’s Light, that make such good partners, which a brother, a couple, or a friend! 🙂

  2. Janice says:

    Many times in life I have no doubt I have lived as the Elder Son doing what I thought was right instead of what I should have done graciously and with an open, giving heart. For me, I have realized I have been blessed with gifts from God everywhere after I opened my eyes to what they are and learned they are often in not places you realize.

    Maybe one of the the Elder Sons gifts was for his brother to leave so he himself could realize he had left as well or never been in the home he thought. He was as lost as his brother and how beautiful and loving it was to return home to his Father if he chose to. Maybe God always knew the younger brother would come home and through him was inviting his elder brother home. Trust and gratitude, something so simple yet in practice hard. Something I will truly work on.

  3. Like Jesus parable draws me into reading, Rembrandt’s painting lures me into looking. It’s easier to see myself in the prodigal son. It’s not just the Father who forgives, but most people feel sorry for those honest enough to eat humble pie. But there’s little compassion for Pharisees who are prodigal saints like the self-righteous brother.

    But there should be. Because the older brothers of this world have focused so much on doing right they’ve numbed themselves to feeling weak and recognizing wrong. Never needing anything nor anybody. Cool and contained frozen with the fear of failure they say “I’ve got this.” It’s such a dangerous deception.

    I see those parts in myself. And to Nouwen’s powerful word’s “Here, I am faced with my own true poverty” and the need to be “born from above” (76). Accepting God’s acceptance…coming to see the flint like strength of the sin of self sufficiency…the only apt antidote is surrender. Again. And again.

  4. Linda MacDonald says:

    What rich reflections on the reading this week concerning the elder son. This is such a complex parable, as complex as Rembrandt’s painting with its play of light and dark. It had never occurred to me to distinguish how warm the light surrounding the father with how cold the light is on the face of the elder brother. And then there is the dark space that feels like an abyss. Is there any way to cross it? Maybe the capacity to step into that space despite the darkness there will be for any elder brother the difference between clinging to resentment or welcoming gratitude and trust. So much of the day to day interactions going on above us (in government and other such spheres) and among us (how to deal with something most of us in living memory have never dealt with) – is this: can we live in mutual care for one another or will we feel compelled to rush to the store and buy up everything we possibly can just because we have the resources to do so? And what about those things now going on in the circle of family with the entire world turned upside down. Gun shops are doing a brisk business and their stock prices are still up. Bombs still fall in Syria. Nothing that was in its place 2 weeks ago is there any longer. The place may appear to be and look the same but it is not the same. The big question in this time of the abyss between the loving welcoming father, and the judgmental elder son, will be transformed by something that is so great it will be impossible not to recognize it. And then as soon as I write these words I understand that the human capacity to forget as soon as the danger has passed is right in our DNA. We are forgetful. Faith calls us to remember – to remember something we cannot perceive as really present so much of the time. We do not notice the smallest things. It seems to me that to live the spiritual life is to cultivate that space within where the capacity to wonder is waiting for that breath that brings new life to what God is doing and how God is being. The rector at the Episcopal Church I attend often says, “God is always giving everything that is God to everything that is not God.” Well – we are not God although we certainly like to pretend we are. We fight wars over our pretending.Maybe another way of saying it is that all of it – life, breath, being, hope, virtues, and even the slips and slides and stumbles — all of it is surrounded by the same warm light which surrounds the prodigal and invites the elder son to join in. At some level the elder son is a transactional kind of person – he has been keeping track of just exactly what is his and what will come to him. He wants it all. He has a bill of sale in his inside vest pocket. Yet the choice is ours to make or not. And maybe there is no hurry in that. Like Katy said – fear of hell certainly had its place in her journey but at the end of the day fear is never enough. Love releases into a space where even if there is darkness it is possible to glimpse that bit of light that can make all the difference. I think the greatest thought we might all consider is that God’s love is for everyone and available to everyone and already being given to everyone and in fact given to all of creation. Too much of Christian tradition has been given over to supplanting other traditions in order to be #1 on the chart. And we’ve called this supplanting “evangelism”. Perhaps the worst of that is Christian against Christian – I refer here to the 30 Years War in Germany at the time of the Reformation and Luther turning against the poor and the Jews.
    But that is the opposite of what God intends. And such an attitude makes the Christian church in its various forms little more than the elder brother, whose face is bathed in a harsh light, whose hand still rests on the hilt of a sword.
    I watched Martin Dobblmeier’s incredible film about Bonhoeffer a few nights ago, and I was struck again by Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the church not as a place of individuals doing their faith thing, but the actual Body of Christ. And it is that Body, that Living Christ, which is called to become the Father as well as be that Body which draws all to itself — draws not by force of sword or punishment and earthly judgment but by the kind of love that does not keep lists of transgressions against itself or others. That means gratitude and trust. That means stepping into into the darkness despite the threat and real possibility of death. God made no mistake in creating such a world of vigor, variety, and contradiction. The elder brother competes with the openness of the father. Maybe that is the challenge for the church as the Body of Christ, but also for me as an individual on a spiritual journey. Return means tearing up the bill of sale in my pocket.

  5. NancyR. says:

    The other morning while sitting in prayer about the elder brother in me, I felt compelled to do what I later read that Ray mentioned…to get up and step down to my knees, physically imagining I was moving over and kneeling under the blessing of the Father with the younger brother in my life! It was a healing moment, filled with love and light! I am so grateful for Henri’s work and Rembrandt’s great visual!

  6. Corinna Mayer says:

    Apologies if this site has already been shared. Visiting the Hermitage virtually to see “The Prodigal Son” was an amazing experience, including zooming in. The link to many museums is here:
    Enjoy! Corinna (The United States)

  7. Christopher Ciummei says:

    I think that, for me, the elder son is both the most compelling and yet the most conflicted of the three characters we are discussing here. On the one hand, he is the uncomfortable aspect of ourselves which we often wish we didn’t possess, the jealousy which should be joy. However, on the other hand, all of us can identify with a time that we have felt that sense of hopelessness, like all of our efforts and attention to detail have been for nothing, so long as someone who is doing things in a way we see as objectionable is being treated with dignity. This, at least for me, is less of a struggle and more of a balancing act. To be the father is to oversee this conflict, and to be the son is to cause the rudimentary aspects of the conflict, but the elder son is an observer, and often, an observer is pained doubly because he has to see and then adjust to the change around him or her. And that is nearly impossible without God’s help.

  8. Ray Glennon says:

    Since writing the post last weekend, I’ve been reflecting on Henri’s belief that this painting “summarizes the great spiritual battle and the great choices this battle demands.” (p. 63) And the field of battle is in our hearts, our innermost being, where we have the freedom to choose “for or against the love that is offered” (p. 64) or to choose for or against God, for “God is love and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him.” (1 Jn 4:16).

    According to Henri, the parable “leaves us face to face with one of life’s hardest spiritual choices: to trust or not trust in God’s all forgiving love.” (p. 75) Reflecting on the Rembrandt’s use of light in the painting, Henri writes, “Although he wants to heal us of all our inner darkness, we are still free to make the our own choice to stay in the darkness or to step into the light of God’s love.” (p. 78)

    This Lent I purchased a 40″ x 26″ Giclee printed canvas art of The Return of the Prodigal Son to replace a framed print with basic glass glazing that I was never really satisfied with. The canvas art piece is stunning and I couldn’t be more pleased. The colors and detail in this piece are far superior to the previous piece and, of course, since there is no glazing, there is no reflection. I am looking at the artwork as I write. Why mention this? Now I can clearly see, as I have never seen before, the choice that is confronting the elder son. He is standing on a step or floor that appears to be several inches higher than or above the floor or platform where the father is holding the younger son. There seems to be a gap separating the elder son from his father and his brother. What is striking to me is that if the elder son were to choose to join his father in the light, the elder son would need to step down and across the gap. He would need to leave his position of apparent superiority (the high ground) and choose the descending path of humility. Mixing metaphors, he would need to choose to get down off his high horse. The elder son doesn’t realize that he is as lost as his brother. Maybe he wants to step into the light. Maybe that is an easy choice for him. But to do so he also needs to step down. Perhaps that is his spiritual battle.

    I have been reflecting on areas in my life where I know I have been looking in from the outside. And maybe I have been looking down as well and have been unwilling to descend into the light and into my Father’s arms. I can see with new eyes why Henri writes, “what an enormous spiritual challenge this painting represents.” (p. 64)

    Be safe and join us next week for Part III: The Father.

    • Linda MacDonald says:

      Thank you Ray for pointing that out! I had never noticed it so clearly as when I went to the Hermitage site this weekend and looked at the painting itself. It shows up really well. The platform, and the step downward to be on the same plane with the younger brother and the Father. Fascinating!

    • Pat Martin says:

      Thank you, Ray, for adding this. I have been thinking of this painting as an icon, but having overlooked the space between father and older son misinterpreted some things.

  9. Elaine M says:

    In this rereading of the chapters on the elder son five years after our last discussion of this book, I find myself grappling with my evolution as the oldest of five siblings. Yes, I did take pride in my competence in taking on very adult duties early in life. Yes, I did strive for the approval of my parents and teachers as I worked to get the highest grades. And while I was seldom resentful that the younger siblings may have enjoyed more freedom to just be kids, I wonder if I would have developed a sense of resentment if my parents had not expressed their appreciation for the times when, as a young teen and preteen, I had to take charge of the four sibs and all of the household duties when our mom was hospitalized for a few days three times over the course of three consecutive summers. What if my dad and I had not shared predawn breakfast confidences while everyone else was still asleep? What if my mom had not beamed over my academic successes?

    So here is what I am wondering about the father who models God’s forgiveness and unconditional love in his embrace of the prodigal. As a human father in the years preceding this dramatic welcoming scene, had he ever failed to pick up the vibe of the prodigal’s discontent and desire to escape his home? Was the prodigal jealous of the competence and seeming maturity of the elder? (Some of my sibs, as adults, confessed their ambivalence about my accomplishments.) Did the father think that the elder son, already competent and dutiful, was not needing a little extra TLC ? Had the elder son put the father off by saying, “No sweat, Dad. I’ve got this covered”? The line that has me wondering is the elder son’s bitter comment that the father had not so much as offered a kid for the elder son to share with his friends. Had the elder son felt he could not ask? Had the human father in the story spent recent years wondering what he could have done differently to raise his two sons? And so is the prodigal’s return the catalyst for the human father’s understanding that it is time for a God-inspired response: to embrace the younger son with unconditional love and generosity and to explicitly say words of love to the elder, a message that the father perhaps wrongly assumed the elder had implicitly understood his whole life? Perhaps the return of the prodigal was redemption for the human father as well.

    As a parent, grandparent, eldest, wife, and caregiver, I must be prepared to think about how others may interpret my actions. Do I just appear as Martha, whose sense of duty seems to trump all? Do I serve with joy and love and not just through the almost ingrained sense of duty that many eldest may have? Am I honoring the competence, talents, and intentions of others? Can I be vulnerable as well?

    • Patricia Martin says:

      What Elaine just said! I’ve been struggling this week to process my thoughts about the older son, when I haven’t been occupied with recent events. Elaine has put most of them into words for me in her analysis of him as well as her description of her family and her place in it. I feel sympathy for the older son and want to justify his reactions, so sometimes I tried to read the painting “literally” as a story to be teased out and that could have a happy resolution for him. That approach hasn’t been successful because it doesn’t reconcile with the painting in all aspects. Thinking of it more as a metaphor as Nouwen explains, however, hasn’t answered the questions that Elaine asks about the father-son relationship. For example, I knew why I shouldn’t ask for things that in later years my youngest siblings just assumed.

      Elaine’s questions have been mine as well. I have been knowing that having those questions is my attempt to justify myself for my own failings; and while writing this I see how the parable is a metaphor for me: I so often fail to ask God for the help of his grace and just as often lack gratitude for the grace that I receive. And have any of our children modeled themselves after me?

  10. Patricia Hesse says:

    When reading the section, “Rembrandt and the Elder Son” I saw myself as the muddied figure, standing in the dark shadows, contemplating my choice. On page 68, it says: “There is a large open space separating the father and his elder son, a space that creates a tension asking for resolution.” I am in that space asking the question on page 75: “to trust or not to trust in God’s all-forgiving love.” But I’m not going to write about that –instead in this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, I’m going to focus on page 85: “Along with trust there must be gratitude… all of life is pure gift …I can choose to be grateful.” —-OR FEAR UNCERTAINTY, as many of us are feeling.

    In the wonderful book Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter. Pollyanna said: “… there is something about EVERYTHING that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it.”

    Read Corrie Ten Boom’s famous flea story from The Hiding Place:
    We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw…Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg. “Fleas!’ I cried. “Betsie, the place is swarming with them! Here! And here another one!” I wailed. “Betsie, how can we live in such a place! Show us. Show us how.” It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie. “Corrie!” she said excitedly, “He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!” I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. “It was in First Thessalonians,” I said. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen. In the feeble light I turned the pages. “Here it is: ‘Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck. “Go on,” said Betsie. “That wasn’t all –Oh yes:…Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus. That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!” I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room. “Such as?” I said. “Such as being assigned here together.” I bit my lip. “Oh yes, Lord Jesus! Such as what you’re holding in your hands.” I looked down at the Bible. “Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.” “Yes,’ said Betsie, “Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!” She looked at me expectantly. “Corrie!” she prodded. “Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.” “Thank You,” Betsie went on serenely, “for the fleas and for–” The fleas! This was too much. “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.” “Give thanks in all circumstances,” she quoted. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.” And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong. Back at the barracks we formed yet another line–would there never be an end to columns and waits?–to receive our ladle of turnip soup in the center room. Then, as quickly as we could for the press of people, Betsie and I made our way to the rear of the dormitory room where we held our worship “service.” Around our own platform area there was not enough light to read the Bible, but back here a small light bulb cast a wan yellow circle on the wall, and here an ever larger group of women gathered. They were services like no others, these times in Barracks 28. At first Betsie and I called these meetings with great timidity. But as night after night went by and no guard ever came near us, we grew bolder. So many now wanted to join us that we held a second service after evening roll call. There on the Lagerstrasse we were under rigid surveillance, guards in their warm wool capes marching constantly up and down. It was the same in the center room of the barracks: half a dozen guards or camp police always present. Yet in the large dormitory room there was almost no supervision at all. We did not understand it. One evening I got back to the barracks late from a wood-gathering foray outside the walls. A light snow lay on the ground and it was hard to find the sticks and twigs with which a small stove was kept going in each room. Betsie was waiting for me, as always, so that we could wait through the food line together. Her eyes were twinkling. “You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,” I told her. “You know, we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” she said. “Well–I’ve found out.” That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it. “But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?” Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: “Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, “That place is crawling with fleas!” My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.

    Within all of Henri’s books there is a continuing thread of gratitude –of seeing all as “pure gift.” I pray that during this pandemic we can all become a Pollyanna of sorts …a Betsie. At the bottom of page 85, Henri says: “The choice for gratitude rarely comes without some real effort.” Dear Father, teach us to see –to be thankful for our fleas.

    I talked to my 18 year old granddaughter on the phone yesterday; she is, sadly, a social media freak. I mentioned how fortunate she was to connect with her friends on Snapchat and Instagram. I was shocked when she said, “Yes, that’s good, but I miss really being with my friends.” That seems a small thing, but now she appreciates the physical presence of someone with skin on –she didn’t before. This pandemic is teaching us all lessons we needed to learn, lessons we needed to remember. It is showing all we took for granted and filling our hearts with gratitude for those things.

    And now –I return to the image of the dark standing figure in Rembrandt’s painting and with God’s help, step into the loving light of God’s mercy and presence in this time with a grateful heart.

    • Patricia Martin says:

      Thank you Patricia for sharing from “Pollyanna” and “The Hiding Place.” Your post is balm for my soul. I read both some time ago, but have not lived out the lessons to be learned from them. In 2020 I am reading each day from Henri Nouwen’s book “Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith,” (which I last read from in 2015) and he has just spoken of gratitude again. Perhaps older brothers, I count myself among them, lack gratitude because we have expected it from others.

    • Linda MacDonald says:

      Give thanks in all circumstances! Thank you so much for these passages from Corrie Ten Boom. (?) So wonderful. And so important as a practice during this time of global pandemic and everyone kind of being at each other in one way or another. Really important to remember what is most deeply significant for enduring the things that are not happy things at all, that cause pain and consternation, confusion and anger. So much blaming going on right now. Giving thanks in all circumstances seems to make acts of caring solidarity more possible and strangely it also seems to lessen the fear and dread that can grab you just reading the news.

  11. Daria says:

    I am meditating on the last part of the last sentence of chapter 4:
    “…it is clear that the hardest conversion to go through is the conversion of the one who stayed home.”
    For me, this is incredibly validating.

    • Christopher Ciummei says:

      Daria. I see what you mean. The responsible person often does not get any visible reward. Yet, that can be a learning opportunity to appreciate the small rewards all around you, with God’s help.

  12. Tom Shafer says:

    Then there is also FREEDOM

  13. Chuck says:

    Trust and gratitude is surely a discipline.How comforting it is to us when Jesus expresses this radical trust that we can have when he says ” Everything you ask and pray for,trust that you have it already,and it will be yours. ” I think this is Mark 11. Do I really trust or do I want to trust? The latter leads to the former.The former, says Henri , “opens the way for God to realize our deepest desires.” What an affectionate God.Gratitude is a game changer as a discipline.. Doing the ignatious examen twice a day allows us to reflect on our daily gifts.No room for resentment or complaints. Another affectionate word from Jesus “You are with me always ,and all I have is yours”. Boy do I want to tap into that. His words move me to a discipline of gratitude.Deep trust and abundant gratitude are game changers.

    • Diane Frances says:

      Beautiful thoughts here!
      I really struggled with trusting God in the past. I couldn’t adopt what I felt was a superficial “ everything will be alright” attitude, because the reality is that everything is not alright in the world. So I felt that to trust, I needed to understand how God worked in the world. But that’s something I just couldn’t define. It took a long time for me to see that trusting is not what I understand or believe about God, it’s how I live my life. And this is what Jesus came into the world to do, to teach us how to live and die in complete trust in God.

  14. Diane C. says:

    I am deeply moved by all that has been shared so far. Thank you virtual friends for your courage, willingness to be vulnerable, and for sharing so profoundly from the wisdom of your hearts. It’s no coincidence I am sure, that Psalm 139 has been imprinted in my brain and on my heart these last few days. During my daily walks I found myself blurting it out as I walked and throughout the day verses have flown, seemingly from nowhere, into my being. I feel like I’m getting “zapped” by this Psalm! And once more, I come to this site and lo and behold…there it is again!

    This is a healing reminder to me that we are all broken and have the privilege of being “wounded healers” in our brokenness. And an affirmation that “God has searched us and He knows us” and “we are fearfully and wonderfully made”

    Thank you for being a healing presence in my life…I am so very grateful to be immersed in this book and with all of you during this Lenten season.

  15. Cata says:

    Trust and practice gratitude!

  16. Marge says:

    Katy-Anne, I have been following silently, but your post calls forth a response! First, thank you so much for sharing so deeply and courageously…the verse you speak of is found in Ps. 139:8b….a deeply personal Psalm for me as well….blessings to you as you “live, move and have being” in God’s Presence today.

    • Liz Forest says:

      Psalm 139 gives me Blessed Assurance. Like you experienced, Katy-Anne and others have said, when we feel in the depths, away from God’s goodness, immersed in the filth of our own pig sty, God is there, waiting for to hear our cry for help. On a retreat, I was encouraged to make a timeline of my years, and plot above and below the best times and the worst times I had experienced. Then I was to plot another set of points of times when I felt God closest and far. The intersection of these times revealed to me how God was closely by listening for my desperate cries for help.
      Here are a few more verses from Psalm 139
      7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
      Or where shall I flee from your presence?
      8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
      If I make my bed in Sheol*, you are there!
      9 If I take the wings of the morning
      and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
      10 even there your hand shall lead me,
      and your right hand shall hold me.
      11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
      and the light about me be night,”
      12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
      the night is bright as the day,
      for darkness is as light with you.
      What better Psalm to pray in these times now!

    • Katy-Anne says:


      Thank-you for telling me where it’s at, as well as the other quote.

  17. Susan McNeely says:

    For as long as I can remember I have wrestled with feelings of resentment and what to do with them or how to get over them. I am so grateful for having found this book and what Henri has to say about resentment. It is helping me tremendously to give it over to God and also for me to realize I need to make that choice. So very thankful for all the responses and posts as well. I feel as if a new way of life is emerging and am looking forward to the joy to be had!

  18. Katy-Anne says:

    Right now my identity is mostly with the younger son. None of us expected Lent to be this difficult, least of all me. But there are some ways, especially because I grew up in a fundamentalist cult, that I relate to the older son also. This week, the section that stood out to me was this:

    “The Father’s love does not force itself on the beloved. Although he wants to heal us of all our inner darkness, we are still free to make our own choice to stay in the darkness or to step into the light of God’s love. God is there. God’s light is there. God’s forgiveness is there. God’s boundless love is there. What is so clear is that God is always there, always ready to give and forgive, absolutely independent of our response. God’s love does not depend on our repentance or our inner or outer changes.” ~ Henri Nouwen, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” p. 78.

    The priest that offers me spiritual direction has this theme of we are all God’s beloved. He constantly reminds me, whether I want to hear it or not. He has been telling me over and over that it does not matter what I’ve done, what matters is that I’m a child of God and I’m loved regardless. God loves me period, whether I respond to it or not is up to me. He has always told me also that God is always there. It often has not felt like that in my life. I am beginning to learn that God has indeed always been there.

    Maybe this is too personal for this space, but I want to tell you a way, even back when I couldn’t see it, God was there. I can see it now, I couldn’t see it then.

    I was nineteen years old, homeless, in one of the most beautiful tropical tourist cities in Australia, gateway to the beautiful islands and the Great Barrier Reef. But what was a place of beauty for many had an ugly side, and teen homelessness was becoming relatively common. Several of the young women I knew made money via dancing, stripping, and prostitution. I wanted so badly to do so, because the money, from what I heard, was pretty good. They were able to use it to buy drugs and alcohol and smokes, because let’s face it, when you’re a homeless teen those are the important things in life.

    But I had grown up in a fundamentalist cult. I was terrified of dying and going to hell. I was scared so very much of going to hell, which isn’t a healthy fear, that I never was able to actually do any of it. I have no judgment of women who turn to sex work, because it’s normally deeply rooted in trauma and desperation, and desperate people do desperate things. In this case, my sheer fear of hell, coupled with the fact that I truly did love God I just didn’t know how, is what kept me from this. I was already messed up in many of my own ways, just like my friends. But looking back, God was there. God was there when I was doing all the other self-destructive things also, but this is one that sticks out to me.

    The Bible says something, I’m not sure where or if I’m even getting the wording right, that even when we make our beds in hell, God is there.

    God is there.

    God is there.

    God has always been there.

    • Ray Glennon says:

      Thank you for your deeply personal, brave, and important comment.
      May you be blessed.

    • Patricia Hesse says:

      Katy -Anne, Your last words jumped out at me —

      GOD is there.
      God IS there.
      God has ALWAYS been there.
      God has always BEEN THERE.

    • Maureen says:

      Thank you for your personal sharing. It seems to be the only kind which resonates with me. Shared pain through life experiences. I sit here, a 71 year old woman on the other side of the globe (New York), confined in so many ways due to the pandemic. I am reminded God is with us through each person, through each moment.
      You have reminded me that God was there during my childhood being raised in a home with alcoholism and much disfunction. Our situations much different but our pain the same. God has walked with me through it all and still does.
      I will take His hand each day, one day at a time, and walk through this challenging time.
      Peace, love blessings and good health to all my family of God’s children on this planet.

      • Katy-Anne says:


        I am in Mississippi these days, still on the coast but I have to say that the Australian coastline spoiled me and I don’t appreciate this one as much as I should. I am stuck at home with three kids, two with autism and other special needs, and my heart hurts because I have a disabled child in an institution that I cannot see because they suspended visiting in order to protect the children that live there. It’s necessary, but it hurts. Thank-you for the reminder that God’s presence is here now, also, not just back then. And if God was there back then and God is here now then one day I will look back on this as another moment that God was here.

        I too connect with stories. Maybe because I’m a writer and therefore a storyteller.

        • Corinna Mayer says:

          Thank you for sharing your experience. This pandemic poses truly unique challenges for each person. I will be thinking of you and praying for you as a fellow mom. I wish you a peaceful heart and mind.

  19. Liz Forest says:

    In today’s Gospel, Jesus is asked how many times must we forgive? Seven? No more than that: 70 x 7 says Jesus. God’s mercy knows no limit. The elder son has a heart filled with resentment. How often when working with others on a project, or an assignment I have felt that one person was not pulling his/her weight. Instead of reaching out to that person, I’d stand in judgement. My mercy had limits.
    On a retreat I watched the movie, “Amish Grace” which tells the story of a deranged man who shot members of an Amish community. The grace this community received to recover from tragedy is the theme of the film. You may watch this free on YouTube:

  20. Diane Frances says:

    Henri’s study of the elder son gave me a deeper appreciation for the wisdom of Jesus. He addresses both issues of our actions ( younger son) and issues of our heart ( elder son). And in fact, since Jesus was so concerned about the state of our hearts, I now wonder if this parable is really more about the elder son ! It’s the question of whether we accept God’s invitation to come into His house, which is left unanswered at the end of the story.

    The idea that resentment and joy cannot coexist resonated with me. 10 years ago I started down the path to free myself from depression and deep seated resentment. It’s been a long haul. But now I can truly experience joy without analyzing it and deciding if it’s “deserved”. But as Henri says, it was impossible to free myself by my own actions. God’s role in this is my definition of grace.

    • Liz Forest says:

      Thanks, Diane, for reminding me of what Henri says grace is: “impossible to free myself by my own actions. God’s role in this is my definition of grace.”
      This lets me know how important is prayer when dealing with things like resentment, annoyance, etc. That’s why Jesus gave me the “Our Father” to pray,
      Forgive me my failings as I forgive the failings of others.” Not easy but with God all things are possible.

  21. Fiona Battrum says:

    The parable of the returning prodigal son touches me deeply and causes me to question the true meaning of love. I strongly identify with the elder son who stayed at home. Like the older son I have always tried to earn love. I have given friendship and help to people but always with the expectation of something back in return. Like the older son I have tried to gain my parents approval by staying and being supportive but have also experienced a sibling being treated seemingly more favourably. Two thoughts crystallise in my mind here1) why do I feel so bad, unlovable, and why do I feel I have to earn love?
    2) True Love in the biblical sense is free unconditional with no strings attached. On further meditation into this parable I realise I am totally broken and I have never felt anything but self loathing and mistrust of others which has now spiralled into frozen anger and I am sorry to say hatred and contempt. I am truly lost and broken and far from home. I am full of fear and afraid to trust others to accept and love me for who I am and I am unable to fully love them as I was created to do. I am longing to be held in the fathers arms and to know that blessed state that Henri talked of following his journey into broken ness and blessing. At the moment I am paralysed and cannot find a way to say yes to trust and believe that God loves me for who I am I spite of all the ways I have acted out my pain fear and self loathing. Henri Nouwen life and example gives me hope to keep going on because he was truly broken and yet God the father took him and held him and brought him home.

    • Elaine M says:

      Fiona, your honesty, humility, willingness to be vulnerable, and desire to come home to the father suggest to me that you have indeed found your way home, for God loves and embraces those who are humble of heart. I believe that God understands the anguish of your heart and appreciates your willingness to grapple with the challenges you have faced on your journey. In the human sphere, family homecomings can be at first awkward, even painful, but I have seen breakthroughs in my own family experiences, often accompanied by many tears and finally sighs of relief and those first self-conscious hugs. The gut courage of the younger son to humble himself and make the move toward home is the catalyst of the change in the family dynamic. The father’s welcome and acceptance becomes the model for the rest of the family. Hopefully the eldest can embrace the breakthrough as well.

      I KNOW all of this in my head and my heart and even in my past experience, but right now rereading this chapter for the first time since we read the book at this site five years ago has brought back some ambivalent feelings that I am trying to process so that I can share in some kind of coherent and hopefully meaningful way with my fellow seekers in this book discussion. I look at the notes I wrote in my book five years ago and realize that I have made some strides, but sadly in too many ways I have not made the progress that I resolved to make at that time.

  22. Ray Glennon says:

    There were several comments added on Saturday evening to last week’s post on The Younger Son. If you would like to read them you can click on the following link: You can also click on the Mar 8th to Mar 14th: 2nd Week of Lent link at the bottom left of the current post. Finally, you can navigate to last week’s post by clicking on the Mar 8th to Mar 14th: 2nd Week of Lent link in the Recent Posts list near the top of the right hand column. To return to the post for the current week, just click on the Home tab in the black bar just below the photograph at the top of the page.
    Thanks and I look forward to a great week of sharing.

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