Of all of Henri Nouwen’s many beloved books on the spiritual life, The Return of the Prodigal Son, is his most inspired. It is a deeply personal and self-revelatory meditation on Jesus’ parable and Rembrandt’s 17th-century painting of the same name. He wrote this masterpiece in 1992, just four years before his death of a heart attack at 64. It remains a perennial bestseller.
At the end of a controversial, debauched, and pain-filled life of loss, Rembrandt had finally come in touch with the immense compassion, mercy, and tenderness of God as Father whose heart burns with love and desire only for his children to return, and as Mother who longs to enfold them again in the safety of her womb.
Nouwen, transformed by an encounter with a detail of the father’s hands gently embracing his broken son, spent years pondering Rembrandt’s painting before he wrote his book, sharing his own raw pain and brokenness.
I came to see it somehow as my personal painting, the painting that contained not only the heart of the story that God wants to tell me, but the heart of the story that I want to tell to God and God’s people. All of the Gospel is there. All of my life is there. All of the lives of my friends is there. The painting has become a mysterious window through which I can step into the kingdom of God…Seldom, if ever has God’s immense compassionate love been expressed in such a poignant way. Every detail of the father’s figure—his facial expression, his posture, the colors of his dress, and , most of all, the still gesture of his hands—speaks of the divine love for humanity that existed from the beginning and ever will be.
A further word from Betty:
In my opinion, The Return of the Prodigal Son is Henri Nouwen’s finest work. Read it slowly and meditatively, giving his words time to lead you to a deeper place. They come with the gift of sacred simplicity; massaging your heart and stimulating your intellect.
With the hope always that the words you offer to others might be words of love, a love that calls others home to an inner awakening and abiding peace. ~Betty