Home Tonight: further Reflections on the Parable of The Prodigal Son

Nouwen, Henri J.M. (ed Mosteller, Sue C.S.J.)
Darton, Longman & Todd (2009)
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To begin with, unless you've read Nouwen's The Return of The Prodigal Son, stop here! That was a very fine, contemplative book which 'opened up' the Rembrandt's picture in the Hermitage by relating Luke's text to its details. The only really interesting detail that this sequel adds is to catalogue Rembrandt's terrible fall from prosperity and felicity into loneliness and poverty, at which point he painted this picture. He could not, says Nouwen, have painted it from any other life situation.

That gives a clue to the purpose of this sequel which is to link Nouwen's own journey from high academia, through L'Arche into near isolation before his return, stripped of his pride which he largely associates in himself with the elder brother in the Parable.

Nouwen's text of his own harrowing narrative links with the characters in the Parable but this narrative is broken up with a miscellany of quotes pious and aphoristic which I personally could have done without; they are all quite illuminating in themselves but they interrupted the bleak narrative tone of the book until its conclusion of qualified triumph.

Each chapter is completed with exercises in listening, 'journaling' and communing, and with a spiritual exercise for those on a journey. The original book on the painting is fairly mainstream, well-observed spirituality but this one is just a little on the Marmite side of plain. If you like Nouwen you should like this but I must confess that I found that in using this as a way of getting closer to God, Nouwen - and this would mortify him - got in my way. Nonetheless, a very readable and somewhat unusual book.

Kevin Carey
1st March 2011