Reading: Conclusion The conclusion of this book is really a climax. We've explored the ways we live as the younger son, the ways we act as the older son, and we've have chosen to come home to the Father. But as Henri explains, to be the true son or daughter of the Father means to be heir, and to be heir means to be successor. 1) Henri asks us to consider this conscious choice to step beyond our spiritual childhood and become the father and mother for many others. a) Where do we see in Scripture this call to be a representative of God to the world? b) What are some areas of your life that you have already stepped into this role for others? What characteristics marked this parental care for others? c) Can you identify an area/ relationship in your life in which you feel God is calling you to let go of your childish ways and step up to spiritual fatherhood or motherhood? What would this look like? Once we have made the decision to make this step, we can apply three disciplines which will help us move towards being a truly compassionate father: GRIEVING 2) Henri explains grieving as a discipline of the heart that sees the sin of the world and the suffering that results from human lostness. Yet our world wants more and more to overlook sin and let "anything go." We are often pushed to experience various "freedoms" that grieve the Father's heart and leave us in tangles. a) What are some practical ways that we can keep our moral standards in line with God the Father's? b) What should be our first response to this grieving? FORGIVENESS 3) Here forgiveness is honestly described as very, very difficult. There seems to be always something that lingers or holds back. "But God's forgiveness is unconditional; it comes from a heart that does not demand anything for itself, a heart that is completely empty of self-seeking." a) What are some of the things that hold you back from this unconditional forgiveness? * arguments that say forgiveness is unwise, unhealthy, and impractical * needs for gratitude and compliments * wounds in your own heart that feel hurt and wronged, and want to stay in control * the inclination to put some conditions on your forgiveness b) How does one "step over" all things things that hold you back? What must we always remember and hold close? (see page 122). c) Although forgiveness is always healthy, allowing destructive behaviour is not. What is the difference between these two actions? GENEROSITY: 4) "Just as the Father gives his very self to his children, so must I give my very self to my brothers and sisters... for 'no one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends'" (p122). a) Can you see the ways in which fear, self-interest, greed, and power play out in your day to day interactions? b) What do you think about Henri's challenge to "prepare ourselves to become true martyrs: people who witness with their whole lives to the unlimited love of God" (p122). c) What is the key ingredient that can make this a healthy and holy act? 5) This is an unusually full week for a conclusion! In addition to reflecting on this very deep challenge to become more like the Father, I invite you to think about the book as a whole. a) What is thought that stuck out to you the most in the book as a whole - the idea that you really want to take with you and put into practice? In true gratitude to each of you for all that you have shared! Brynn
Reading: 7. Rembrandt and the Father 8. The Father Welcomes Home 9. The Father Calls for a Celebration In these three chapters Henri turns our attention to the father. We have much to explore and learn here. The time we take to understand the father will prepare us for the deep spiritual challenge Henri presents to us in the Conclusion. 1) First of all we see how the father welcomes his children home. We do not find a father who is waiting inside for his children to come in and beg forgiveness. We see a father eager to receive his children. In fact, we see a father who has been eagerly searching for his children. a) How does it strike you to realize that you are the sheep, the coin, the child that God has been eagerly searching for? I invite you to read the two parables that precede the Prodigal Son (in Luke 15) and put yourself in the story as the lost sheep or coin. b) Can you accept that you are worth looking for? c) Do you believe that there is a real desire in God to simply be with you? 2) The father in the parable has two very different sons and, as we explored in Part 1 and 2, both of them have certain merits, and both of them have left home in a deep way. Yet, the father doesn't spend any time comparing the two. a) What does it mean for love to be truly non-comparing? Think this over quite a bit. b) Do you like the idea that God's love is non-comparing? Or, does some part of you still want to think that you've earned God's love? c) Can you see how the issues that came up for you as we discussed being the elder son directly relate to this constant comparison we entertain in our lives? How might accepting God's non-comparing love change our interactions with others and bring us back to freedom in the Father's house? d) Can you see an opportunity in your life to "rejoice in [God's] generosity to the latecomers" (p98)? 3) Next we see how the father calls for a celebration. The wealth of the father in the story is meant to reflect our "God who is rich in goodness and mercy" (p104). These riches are expressed in God's gifts of forgiveness, reconciliation and healing, and He invites each of us to witness these riches with joy. a) What comes up for you as you imagine God throwing a big party? Does it seem right, or do you resist living a joyful life? Are you inside or outside the party? b) How can we live the discipline of celebrating with the Father, even while being actively in a world that seems overcome with sorrow and darkness? Please give an example. Although I've said it many times before, may I remind you that I offer these questions to help our discussion get going... but you are absolutely free to share whatever came up for you in the readings. Thank you for all that you share! Brynn
Reading: 6. The Elder Son’s Return This week we are exploring how we, as the older son/daughter, can choose to return to the freedom offered by Father. It is a choice we must actively and regularly make, for we are always "free to make our own choice to stay in the darkness or to step into the light of God's love" (p 74). It is not to say we can detangle ourselves on our own. But we can desire God's light, hope for it, wait for it, pray for it, and start practicing two disciplines that facilitate our return. Above all, we must look to the work of Jesus Christ in conquering darkness. 1) TRUST: Trust involves recognizing and proclaiming that God loves us - including all our unique gifts and shortcomings. a) Look to the Word of God and discover what it says about God's love for you. b) Please share with us what God speaks to your heart (even if you have trouble fully believing it, you have the choice to claim it). 2) GRATITUDE: Gratitude is the "explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy" (p80). It often involves both an inner decision and an outer action. The inner decision involves actively choosing to articulate what is good or beautiful about a situation, even though it is much easier to see what is ugly and hurtful. a) Thinking back to the specific experience you shared last week, in which some pretty dark emotions came naturally, can you articulate something you are grateful for? The outer action is an act of faith. When we trust that God has us in His hands and provides all the love we need, we can can act towards others with gratitude without needing a proper response from them. Henri provides a few examples; "write a gentle letter to someone who will not forgive me, make a call to someone who has rejected me, speak a word of healing to someone who cannot do the same" (p81). b) What is an action you can do, be it big or small, to express gratitude in the situation you discussed last week? I encourage you to actually do that action, and let us know the results. 3) THE WORK OF JESUS CHRIST Ultimately, "Jesus is God's way of making the impossible possible - of allowing light to conquer darkness" (p82). a) What does the Word of God say about Christ's work on the cross in conquering death and darkness?
Reading: 4. Rembrandt and the Elder Son 5. The Elder Son Leaves This week Henri takes us to a whole new understanding of this Parable. From the readings we realize that it is possible to stay home, yet become lost there. We may live as the elder son, for whom obedience and faithfulness become contaminated by resentment, anger and envy. Externally we appear to be living with the Father, but we are not living the free life offered to those in the Father's household. Once again, this week we will focus on exploring the ways in which we are lost, and next week we will explore the return. 1) How do you identify with the older son? a) Do you find yourself, after doing all the things a good son/daughter should so, after having faithfully and obediently served the Father, that you are left feeling resentful of others or unrecognized? 2) Henri articulates that the "lostness of the resentful saint is so closely wedded to the desire to be good and virtuous" that it is often very hard to recognize or get a hold of in our own hearts. Take some time to explore the things that come up in your emotional/thought life to signal that you've wandered away from the Father, although in many ways still in His house. a) Henri suggests that lostness while at home is often characterized by: * judgement and condemnation * anger and resentment * bitterness and jealousy * pride and unkindness * selfishness * prejudice * frozen anger 3) Once you've explored when and where these emotions/thoughts surface in your life, you'll likely have a story to give as an example. Try to articulate that real life story here, as a form of bringing to light what was going on in your own heart. As Henri explains, it is far more difficult to openly identify ourselves with the elder son. When the younger son leaves it seems more acceptable - a moment of weakness, something he regrets and repents of. It is far more embarrassing to admit that all the while that we've supposedly been doing good and self-sacrificing things, we've in fact been feeding some very dark emotions - perhaps for many years! But instead of holding on to that darkness, let's bring it to light. This is sure to be a very insightful week! Brynn
Reading: 3. The Younger Son’s Return This week is a very important follow up to last week's exploration of our "leaving home" - disconnecting from our God, the source of life. In this week's reading Henri reminds us that no matter how far we have gone from God's presence we can always return. 1) God's love letter to us (his Holy Word) provides us with the truth that can lead our hearts home, if we take the time to listen to His voice... (p45) a) What was the truth that the Prodigal Son clung to, which ultimately gave him the courage to return home to the Father? b) What does the Word of God say about our position as children or heirs of God? c) Think about the specific "voice" that calls you away, what does the Word of God say about the lie you are believing? [For those who aren't overly familiar with the Bible, and aren't sure where to start, check out www.biblegateway.com - you can type in a key word (ex heir) and see what you discover. The Psalms are also a very good place to start.] 2) If, in our deepest selves, we are truly sons and daughters of God, what might be holding us back from turning and fully surrendering to Him? (see the top half of page 48). 3) Henri suggests that the Beatitudes offer us "the simplest route for the journey home, back into the house of [our] Father" (p49). a) How do you understand the portrait of a child of God, as painted by the beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12? Some biblical research into the context and meaning of the words Jesus used here may well provide some powerful insights into our journey home. 4) In the last section of this chapter, "The True Prodigal," Henri explores how Jesus took the place of the prodigal on our behalf. a) How does this inform your personal journey home, and/or your understanding of what Christ did for us on the cross? Throughout these discussion questions I have encouraged you to seek the Word of God, because He tells us in Isaiah 55 that: 10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Many thanks everyone, I'm looking forward to another very important week of discussions. Brynn
Reading: 1. Rembrandt and the Younger Son 2. The Younger Son Leaves This week we really dive into the text. We have the opportunity to specifically and fully explore what it means to "leave home." Journeying through this book may have powerful implications to the realm of your human relationships. Certainly gleam all you can in this regard, and feel free to share of your process. However, Henri invites every single one of us to consider that "the story deals not with the human love of an earthly father... what is meant and represented here is the divine love and mercy in its power to transform death into life" (p34-35). 1) In what ways, in your spiritual life, do you leave home? In what ways do you deny the spiritual reality that you belong to God with every part of your being? Henri realized that "I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found" (p39). a) What voices tend to call you away, and dominate your life? Really think this through, as it may not be obvious at first. To the extent that you are comfortable, please provide examples from your own journey. These "voices" may say; * "Prove you are worth something" * "Show me you are good" * "Make it on your own" * "Gain social status" * "Don't show weakness" * "You are valuable when you are good-looking, intelligent and wealthy" * "Lusts and lavish consumption will satisfy you" b) What tends to come up in your emotional life to signal that you've "left home"? For example; * anger, resentment * lust and greed * fear of being disliked or persecuted * anxiety * sadness or depression What we are reflecting on this week is potentially very personal and very deep. Please be wise, and recognize what is healthy for you to share in the context of an online discussion. That being said, Henri often wrote that the most personal is the most universal, so if you are in a place in which you are able to share please do. Whether or not you share it here, it is important to take this week to ponder the specific ways in which we "leave home" or "search for unconditional love where it cannot be found." Next week we will explore the "return," including what that looks like and how we can begin that journey. For now, let's focus this week on understanding the "leaving." As is always the case, the questions I offer are meant to help get the discussion flowing - but we are not bound to them. Please feel free to share what came up for you as you pondered this week's reading. Brynn
Reading: The Story of Two Sons and Their Father, the Prologue and the Introduction A very warm welcome to everyone. Today we gather together, in this online community, to begin a Lenten journey. Our intention is to encourage one another as we think on Christ, and seek to live our lives for Him. This is my prayer for this discussion; that we would: * grow in our love for Jesus * be strengthened in our understanding of the Word of God * receive strength and endurance for our pursuit of God * be fruitful in our influence for Jesus Each one of you is a very important part of this journey, and I know God will work both in you and through you. We are blessed to be able to study Henri's journey, as he grew in his understand of the parable, The Return of the Prodigal Son, through Rembrandt's exquisite visual representation. As many have already commented, there is much wisdom and insight to be gleaned from this book. I'm pretty excited about the discussion that is ahead! First, let me offer a brief introduction for those who are participating for the first time. The "home page" for this discussion is http://wp.henrinouwen.org/rgroup_blog/. Return to this page often, to make sure you are up to date. Each week I will make a new "post" identified by a bold black title on the home page. Underneath the post you can click on "comments" to read comments, and of course add your own. Always add your comments to the newest post, even if you are referring to a previous post, so that everyone sees what you have shared. If you add a comment to an old post, very few people will see it. Myself and Maureen have to "moderate" comments before they are actually posted on the website. This means you can communicate with us if you have any questions. Well, lets begin! These first few days are mostly about introductions, and preparing ourselves for the study. 1) Please share with us a little bit about yourself. You might include: a) your general geographic location b) to whom or what you dedicate your time c) how you came to know Henri Nouwen, and if you've participated in one of these discussions before 2) What is your previous experience with Rembrandt? a) If you know very little about Rembrandt and his paintings, that is totally okay! b) If you can share any general knowledge or insight into Rembrandt, that would be most welcome c) Have you ever seen Rembrandt's works? What stood out to you? 3) Please share with us any thoughts that came up for you as you read this week's readings, The Story of Two Sons and Their Father, the Prologue and the Introduction. a) Did you notice anything new as you read The Story of Two Sons and Their Father? b) Did anything about the journey Henri describes particularly stand out to you? In gratitude to each of you, Brynn
Journey with us this Lent as we read and reflect on Henri Nouwen’s most widely read book, The Return of the Prodigal SonFebruary 4th, 2013
When I went to Saint Petersburg to see Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son, I had little idea how much I would have to live what I then saw. I stand with awe at the place where Rembrandt brought me. He led me from the kneeling, disheveled young son to the standing, bent-over old father, from the place of being blessed to the place of blessing. As I look at my own aging hands, I know that they have been given to me to stretch out toward all who suffer, to rest upon the shoulders of all who come, and to offer the blessing that emerges from the immensity of God's love. - Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son Journey with us this Lent as we read and reflect on Henri Nouwen's most widely read book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. We are very grateful to Brynn Phillips Lawrence who continues to offer her wise and gentle leadership to this community. Brynn has created a reading schedule which you will find posted in the "Pages" section of this blog. The Return of the Prodigal Son can be purchased from our website.
Reading: Conclusion and Epilogue And so, as we approach Christmas Day, "it may be extremely difficult for us in the modern age to feel close to Jesus of Nazareth, who lived in another world; it may be even more difficult to look forward to the day of His return; but more than ever it may be possible to experience the Spirit of Christ as a living Spirit who makes it possible to break through the boundaries of our imprisoned existence and makes us free to work for a new world" (p 12). 1) This is really what this discussion has been all about - how can we break through the boundaries of our imprisoned existence, and truly minister to others in the power and name of Jesus Christ. a) And so, as we wrap up this book, and this discussion, and as we head into a new year... what thought or summary would you like to carry with you, that might help you to truly lay down your life in creative ministry to another? 2) In the epilogue I think Henri did a wonderful thing. He published some of the questions and criticisms others had of this book. Perhaps you can identify with some of the questions others raised, and perhaps it explains why we had a hard time with some of these chapters. a) What does Henri's decision to publish these criticisms teach us about the art of Creative Ministry?
Reading: Chapter 4 and 5 This week we explore two full chapters! In chapter 4 we explore our role as agents of social change and in chapter 5 we are called to a celebration of life. In keeping with the earlier chapters, these two are challenging to digest, but I think we will find it well worth the effort. 1) To begin with, Henri calls us to be agents of social change - to take an honest look at the problems and injustices within the systems that govern our society, and facilitate change. a) What is your initial reaction to this call? Does it naturally excite you or would you consider it more of a discipline? b) Do you think all people are called to be agents of social change, or does it depend on individual talents/ gifts/ personality types? c) Can you share a specific example - an inspiring true story of regular people who came together under the stirrings of the Holy Spirit to work for a larger societal change? 2) Henri then duly warns us of possible pitfalls in this process, and encourages us with proper perspectives. a) Can you relate to the three pitfalls Henri describes, concretism, power and pride? Have you seen them play out in yourself personally or in a project you've been a part of? b) Similarly, have you seen the healthy perspectives of hope, receptivity and shared responsibility demonstrated in work for social change? 3) Chapter 5 almost seems in contradiction to chapter 4, but they most certainly must be in balance for either to truly bloom in our lives. Henri calls us to celebration. He explains that celebration is "the acceptance of life in a constantly increasing awareness of its preciousness. And life is precious not only because it can been seen, touched, and tasted, but also because it will be gone one day" (p 97). a) Have you ever known a person or a family who was living something very difficult - poverty, deep loss or severe illness, yet they seemed to be able to celebrate life? 4) Henri then gives us some specific tools that we can explore as we seek to learn to be people who celebrate, and lead others in the act of celebration. a) First of all, we are invited to affirm the present moment. What do you think this means? Have you experimented with this in your own life? What does it look like? b) Next we are asked to remember our past. Have you experienced how when forgiveness is asked for personal or collective history, true life, freedom and celebration can flow? c) Finally, celebration is filled with expectations for the future. What basis do we have for such hopeful expectation? I feel that each of these questions could have a lot of sub questions. I invite you to discover the idea that stood out to you, and really explore it! You can also feel free to put your own question out to the group.