Theme 2 : Artwork 4

Reflection Title: 
Return and Exile
Reflection Content: 

Where is Rembrandt in this painting? Where are you in the painting, in this story? Are you the son returning, having ruined all that had been freely given? Or perhaps you are the faithful child who stayed home, worked hard building the family estate, and, over time, became angry and resentful. Maybe you are the father, with his accumulation of fears, doubts, and concerns, facing life with a wound in his heart, longing to know what happened to his beloved child. Over time, perhaps we come to know all three roles. The prodigal did not think he could return. At most he could return perhaps as a servant no longer known by name. He had forsaken his rights as a child. His elder brother, in the moment of his father’s joy at the return of the one who was lost, started on his own journey down and out; welcome has no home in a festering heart. At seeing the face of his youngest son, the father loses all concern and sadness, overwhelmed by joy that the one who was lost had been found.

Story Title: 
The Lost, Found
Story Content: 

There was once a man who had two sons; and the younger said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the property.” So he divided his estate between them. A few days later the younger son turned the whole of his share into cash and left home for a distant country, where he squandered it in reckless living. He had spent it all, when a severe famine fell upon the country and he began to feel the pinch. So he went and attached himself to one of the local landowners, who sent him on to his farm to mind the pigs. He would have been glad to fill his belly with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “ How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they can eat, and here am I, starving to death! I will set off and go to my father, and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned, against God and against you; I am no longer fit to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.’” So he set out for his father’s house. But while he was still a long way off his father saw him, and his heart went out to him. He ran to meet him, flung his arms around him, and kissed him. The son said, “Father, I have sinned, against God and against you; I am no longer fit to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! fetch a robe, my best one, and put it on him, put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. Bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us have a feast to celebrate the day. For this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And the festivities began.

—Luke 15:11–24 

Contemporary Story Title: 
Suffering’s Fruit
Contemporary Story Content: 

Prayer written by an unknown prisoner in Ravensbruck concentration camp and left on the body of a dead child:
O Lord, remember not only the men and woman of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted on us; remember the fruits we have bought, thanks to this suffering – our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this, and when they come to judgment let all the fruits which we have borne be their forgiveness. 

—George Appleton, ed., The Oxford Book of Prayer

Artwork Title: 
Fathers and Sons
Artwork Content: 

In his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest and writer, describes his encounter with Rembrandt’s painting and the subsequent effect it had on his spiritual life. Considering the roles of the father and sons in the parable in relation to Rembrandt’s life, Nouwen wrote:
“Rembrandt is as much the elder son of the parable as he is the younger. When, during the last years of his life, he painted both sons in Return of the Prodigal Son, he had lived a life in which neither the lostness of the younger son nor the lostness of the elder son was alien to him. Both needed healing and forgiveness. Both needed to come home. Both needed the embrace of a forgiving father. But from the story itself, as well as from Rembrandt’s painting, it is clear that the hardest conversion to go through is the conversion of the one who stayed home.” 

Nouwen goes on to explain his engagement with the painting:
“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 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, (1932-1996). The Return of the Prodigal Son. 

Question Title: 
Forgiven, a return to life?
Question Content: 

May you be blessed, my Fathers, who bless the Prodigal Son!
I want to see again the room on the right where the women worked,
Where I played with the doves and my brothers, sons of the Lion.
Ah! to sleep once again in the cool bed of my childhood
Ah! to have loving black hands once again tuck me in at night,
And see once again my mother’s white smile.
Tomorrow I will continue on my way to Europe, to the embassy,
Already homesick for my black Land.
—Leopold Sedar Senghor, (born 1906)

Is Forgiveness Possible?
Pay attention to the light in this painting—how it falls in the foreground, illuminating the face of the father and the relief of the returning son. Did you notice the other son in the shadows, behind the left shoulder of the father? Have you ever returned to a parent, a child, a loved one, an enemy, hoping somehow, against all odds, you may be able to be present there with them again, forgiven? Or if not forgiven, at least accepted? Is it possible, after despoiling a relationship of love, to return? Is forgiveness possible?

Music Content: 

Paraphrase 30 –Kedron 

Paraphrase 30 is a “Paraphrase of the Psalms of David to be sung in the Kirk of Scotland” authorized in the year 1650. This metrical Psalter of the Church of Scotland has been in use for over three hundred and fifty years. Paraphrase 30 includes references from Deuteronomy and Psalm 29. 

“Paraphrase 30-Kedron.” tradional, arr. Hugh S. Robertson, Psalms of Scotland, Scottish Philharmonic Singers, Ian McCrorie, director, SCS Music 1988. Track 3.


I Believe I’ll Go Back Home/Lordy, Won’t You Help Me?

“I Believe I'll Go Back Home/Lordy, Won’t You Help Me?” traditional, arr. Charles Lloyd, Jr., Spirituals in Concert, Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman, orchestra conducted by James Levine, Deutche Grammophone 1990. Track 6.


I Believe I’ll Go Back Home

“I Believe I’ll Go Back Home.” traditional, arr. Gregg Allman and T-Bone Burnett, Low Country Blues, Gregg Allman, Rounder Records 2011. Track 8.

Image Theme: 
Image Thumbnail: 
Image Summary: 

The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1668. Rembrandt van Rijn, 1606–1669. 

Story Audio: 
Contemporary Story Audio: 

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