Reading: Rembrandt and the Father; The Father Welcomes Home; The Father Calls for Celebration (p. 89 to 119)
Looking at the way in which Rembrandt portrays the father,
there came to me a whole new interior understanding
of tenderness, mercy, and forgiveness. (p. 93)
As we share our Lenten journey during these unprecedented times, it is a great blessing and comfort to come together in this online community to read and discuss Henri Nouwen’s peerless reflection on the “parable (which) is in truth a ‘Parable of the Father’s Love'” (p. 93) and the painting that is “the human expression of divine compassion.”
(p. 92) This week we will turn our gaze to the father and ponder the “infinite compassion, unconditional love, everlasting forgiveness–divine realities–emanating from a Father who is the creator of the universe.” (p. 93) These divine realities are sorely needed today in an uncertain and unsettled world struggling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
As always, this is a rich chapter with much worth considering. Please share what has touched your heart. Here are several ideas that might prompt your thinking.
Rembrandt’s masterpiece portrays a nearly-blind father “who recognizes his son, not with the eyes of the body, but with the inner touch of his heart. . . a seeing that reaches out to all humanity.” (p. 94). Henri paints a word portrait of a personal and loving father, not some distant authoritarian figure: “The heart of the father burns with an immense desire to bring his children home. . . . As Father, he wants his children to be free, free to love. . . . As Father, the only authority he claims for himself is the authority of compassion. . . . Here is the God I want to believe in: (emphasis added) a Father who, from the beginning of creation has stretched out his arms in merciful blessing, never forcing himself on anyone, but always waiting; never letting his arms drop in despair, but always hoping that his children will return. . . His only desire is to bless.” This week you might reflect on both Rembrandt’s painting and Henri’s words, to see how together they influence your conception and understanding of the loving Father. Share what you discover.
Consider the details from Rembrandt’s painting below. “The true center of Rembrandt’s painting is the hands of the father. . . Those hands are God’s hands. (p. 96) . . . The father’s left hand . . . is strong and muscular. . . . How different is the father’s right hand. . . It’s a mother’s hand. . . The Father is not simply a great patriarch. He is a mother as well as a father. ” (p. 98-9)
Does Rembrandt’s portrayal and Henri’s description of God in whom fatherhood and motherhood are fully present enrich or alter your understanding of God? If so, how?
Henri asks himself: “The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God? but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” Consider these questions for yourself this week and share what you learn.
Finally, Henri says, in words that resonate today, “The father of the prodigal son gives himself totally to the joy that his returning son brings him. . . . I don’t have to wait until all is well, but I can celebrate every little hint of the Kingdom that is at hand. This is a real discipline. 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. . . ” (p. 115) If the “reward of choosing joy is joy itself,” what can you do to choose joy in these difficult days and to bring joy to others?
We have another great week of sharing ahead of us. Remain in touch with those you love and those you know who may not have anyone else to check on them. If anyone in our virtual community needs or wants a way to remain connected after our discussion ends, please let us know and we will make sure it happens.
May the love of the Father give you peace and bring you comfort in the challenging days and weeks ahead.