The Return of the Prodigal Son
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The Return of the Prodigal Son

4.4 of 5 stars 4.40  ·  rating details  ·  6,684 ratings  ·  412 reviews
A chance encounter with a reproduction of Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son catapulted Henri Nouwen on a long spiritual adventure. Here he shares the deeply personal and resonant meditation that led him to discover the place within where God has chosen to dwell.

In seizing the inspiration that came to him through Rembrandt's depiction of the powerful Gospel story,...more
Hardcover, 176 pages
Published April 1st 1992 by Doubleday (first published January 1st 1991)
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Father Nouwen's book forever changed me and the way I understood this parable of forgiveness, love and our relationship with God, the Father. I first read this book in 2001 and was amazed to discover the richness and depth within the simple story told by Jesus, and also grateful to be introduced in such a profound way to Rembrandt's famous painting which adds layers of meaning to this amazing parable about the vital aspects of Relationship.

Henri J.M. Nouwen—priest, author, teacher, renown publi...more
Jun 21, 2008 Meghan rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: people who don't usually like touchy-feely Christian books, but ought to give this one a try anyway
Using Jesus’ well-known parable and Rembrandt’s painting of The Return of the Prodigal Son, Nouwen performs a thorough and meaningful close-read, expounding on the spiritual roles of Father, Brother, and Son (or, more appropriately, Parent, Sibling, and Child, since Nouwen does not dwell on gender specificity). Divided into three main sections, the book describes each of these figures, drawing further insight from Rembrandt’s painting and corresponding events in the painter’s life. The discussio...more
So much of the time it feels like Nouwen is writing about my life as much as his own. So far, this is yet another example.

Beautiful book that for me needed to be soaked up slowly. 3-4 months for me to read 140 pages. After finishing, and claiming no expertise in the matter, I'm going to say all pastors should read this book.

Why? Because of this conclusion: "Our community is full of wayward and angry children, and being surrounded by peers gives a sense of solidarity. Yet the longer I am part of...more
M.G. Bianco
I received this book as a gift from a dear friend. And it may be one of the more important books I've read year to date. There are some books that a person reads, and it is just the book that person needs to read at that moment. This was one of those books for me. It may not be the book someone else needs to read today, but it will probably be a book you will need to read someday.

Nouwen's book is simultaneously autobiographical and devotional. But, it is more than just a devotional book on the B...more
♥ Ibrahim ♥
The heart of the Bible is the parable of the Prodigal Son and Henri Nouwen's book on this parable is by far one of the best. I can read it over and over again and feel like I am reading it for the first time in my life. If you want to know what type of God we have in Christianity, then begin with this book and you will be proud that you are a Christian!
Nouwen is that person who can see something that's become too familiar in a new way, and therein lies the value of his writings. The Prodigal Son is one of the best known of Jesus' teachings, but Nouwen uses an examination of Rembrandt's rendition of the parable to analyze all of the characters involved and ask if, maybe, we miss the point of the parable, especially in the way that we tend to only identify with the prodigal himself.

Along with profound thoughts on the parable, the book is full of...more
Marie Notcheva
The Futile, Powerless God of Henri Nouwen

"Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God's house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God." – Henri Nouwen

The parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 used to be my favorite Bible passage. Until a contemplative mystic priest named Henri Nouwen ruined it for me.

Several years ago, I wrote about my brief en...more
Paul Dubuc
Feb 24, 2010 Paul Dubuc rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Paul by: Rick Hatem
This book must be among the best of Henri Nouwen's writing. In it he gives some very deep and penetrating insight into the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and its illustration in Rembrandt's painting of the Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen shares with the reader the meaning he found for his own spiritual journey in studying the painting; how it illuminated the ways he was like the younger son, the elder son and how he felt called to be more like the father. Readers may see similar...more
On a handful of occasions, a work of art has riveted my attention. As a college student, a painting in the Butler Museum of Art titled "In Flanders Fields Where Soldiers Sleep and Poppies Grow" by Robert Vonnoh had that effect as I pondered young girls picking scarlet red poppies in what had once been a killing field. For Nouwen, it was a portion of Rembrandt's painting of the Return of the Prodigal Son that had this same effect. Eventually he spent several days meditating upon the original and...more
I have now read this book three times, twice about 20 years ago and again now. I believe that I have matured a good deal and can therefore appreciate it even more. I remember being awed and a bit overwhelmed by it in my youth; I am totally awed and overwhelmed by it now. Simply put, it is a powerful work of spiritual insight and development.

Foremost among the things that make this book so incredible and indelible in its impact is the honesty of its author, Henri J.M. Nouwen, a Catholic priest wh...more
This is another re-read as befits a spiritual classic such as this book. The premise of the book is Nouwen's reflections on Rembrandt's painting, the Prodigal Son. Nouwen reflects on the spiritual roles and significance of the younger brother, the older brother and the father. He charts his understanding of these roles in his own life as he considers what it means to be forgiven, how one's own self-rightousness can blind one to God's grace and how one can become more like the Father's self-givin...more
I feel as though I should like this intimate personal reflection on the parable of the prodigal son and Rembrandt's visual interpretation of it by esteemed Dutch theologian Henri Nouwen, but it annoys me no end. I can't finish it. Nouwen seems so desperately needy and personally overwrought, he lacks enough critical distance to say anything illuminating for the outsider. I confess I don't have much patience with the "I'm not worthy of love/I'm unable to accept love" line, at least when people pr...more
I wish that I could give this book 10 stars. This and the Pursuit of God are my two favorite 'spiritual books'. I wish for one day that I could crawl into Henri Nouwen's head and experience God as he does. That would indeed be a wonder.

I relate to this book because I think in my life's journey that I have been the older brother (very self-righteous) and the younger brother...broken over the ways I have hurt others and completed broken from the things I have done; both sons so in need of Grace.

Jeff Hatgas
Henri Nouwen starts this book by describing his quirky obsession with Rembrandt's painting of the "Return of the Prodigal Son." He ends the book by showing you how he tries to "live out the painting." A beautiful reflection on the parable, as well as the different spiritual movements that Henri, as well as many of us may go through on our journey, this book provides insights into the story that are enlightening (and even surprising at times). It's a quick read, and provides a boost to anyone loo...more
Karen Mcintyre
It is a book I read and appreciated, but have revisited often. This story was one I always disliked. It goes against my desire to be rewarded for doing good, and to see OTHERs punished for doing evil!

As I have revisited it -- I find myself moving through the Biblical characters, just as Rembrandt did...just as Nouwen did....

I caused me to explore Rembrandt's paintings and life, and it has given me a deeper insight into how art expresses the inexpressible, and how great people of faith have come...more
Jan Garza
I read this book as part of a Lenten study with my church lady friends. In depth discussion about the painting of the Prodigal son and the bible story. Fascinating look at a priest's study of the painting. DEEP! But easy to understand.
This is a wonderful book by a struggling wounded priest. It details our struggle to come home to the Father whether we are a wandering younger son or a bitter elder brother. It also includes guidance to become the father, a person who loves joyously no matter what. There is lots to think about and practice in this simple book.
Sylvain Reynard
This book is Nouwen's meditation on Rembrandt's painting "The Return of the Prodigal Son," and the spiritual journey that begins with that meditation. For those who have read my story "Gabriel's Inferno," you'll notice that I mention the same painting.
This book continues to shape my understanding of Christian life, from being the younger son, recognizing my older son mentality, and finally striving to attain to the heart of the Father.
Stosh Walsh
For me, Nouwen's finest work, alongside The Wounded Healer. An intersection of theology, art, and self-reflection somehow made universally applicable by an incomparable writer.
T Taylor
Rich and complex, Nouwen explores Rembrandt's mysterious painting of the prodigal son and father, while discussing the deep meaning of God's love.
I read this book 20 years ago. I pulled it back off the shelf to read again. So powerful and insightful! Nouwen shares his profound experience with Rembrandt's painting "The Return of the Prodigal Son" and how he sees the deep truths of God's love in the younger son, the elder son, and the father. This is a book about the deep truth of God's grace, forgiveness and love, as well as our calling to assume the role of the father in each of our lives as we seek to live the Christian faith. A book tha...more
An enlightening, comprehensive, and 'symmetrical' meditation on the psycho-mythological significance of the Prodigal Son (as a painting and as a parable).

I found Nouwen's apporach quite inviting, and the author identifies with the roles of the central characters: the younger (prodigal) son, the elder (dutiful) son, and the generous, forgiving father. He also asks us to contemplate the spiritual significance of each of these 'phases', as they relate to Christ and as they relate to what he imagine...more
Shandy Robl
Its a book about a painting...
Chris Salzman
I'd read the first half of this about a year ago and finally picked up the last half to finish it. It's a short book, but I think I would have been better off reading a section of it a year, with plenty of time to ruminate on each section. I'll definitely be picking this back up in a decade or so to see if I'm anywhere more ready for what he has to say in the later half.

Nouwen is a purposeful and focused writer. The entire book is an extended reflection on his own life based on the parable of th...more
Herb Hunter
This was another recommendation from an acquaintance. I asked a Catholic priest I was talking to what book I should read if I was interested in understanding Catholicism. He recommended this book and so I read it. It is the description of the life lessons that Henri Nouwen learned from his contemplations on Rembrandt's famous "Return of the Prodigal Son" painting. To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect since this book was well outside my normal genres of reading. Nouwen reads a lot like he h...more
Jenn Raley
This is a lovely little book. The pace and tone are moderate and accessible. There is a good balance of personal story-telling, description of both art and scripture, and teaching / interpretation.

I was most impressed with how well this book was structured. It was very clear and easy to follow, and provided a really good road map for where it was going and how it was getting there.

Nouwen's exploration of how he - and each of us - are the three characters in the Prodigal Son story is quite resona...more
I love this book. I'm going to read it again.

Yes, always well worth the read. A beautiful portrayal of the Prodigal Son....and his elder brother....AND the Father.

Some thought provoking passages:

"..The same God who suffers because of his immense love for his children is the God who is rich in goodness an mercy and who desires to reveal to his children the richness of his glory. The father does not even give his son a chance to apologize. he pre-empts his son's begging by spontaneous forgiveness...more
Rachel Merritt
I'm surprised to say I really liked this book. I have always disliked this parable, simply because I always believed that the elder brother was right to feel the way he did, and that the father's actions were a betrayal to the elder son's devotion to his father all those years. However, for the first time, after reading through this book, I am able to see how, perhaps, the full intent behind this story in the first place, was for us to be able to see ourselves in each character, and view it as a...more
Jim B
An astounding book. Nouwen was doubly perceptive. His insight into the images of Christ's parable of the Prodigal Son will stay with me for the rest of my life, and his use of Rembrandt's painting, "The Return of the Prodigal" led me further into the parable, and gave me a deep love for Rembrandt's painting (which had been my least favorite painting of that subject.

Nouwen was able to do for the elder brother what I have not heard any preacher do: he opened my eyes to identify with the elder brot...more
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Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen (Nouen), (1932–1996) was a Dutch-born Catholic priest and writer who authored 40 books on the spiritual life.

Nouwen's books are widely read today by Protestants and Catholics alike. The Wounded Healer, In the Name of Jesus, Clowning in Rome, The Life of the Beloved, and The Way of the Heart are just a few of the more widely recognized titles. After nearly two decades of...more
More about Henri J.M. Nouwen...
The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry

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“For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.

Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. 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?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.”
“Addiction" might be the best word to explain the lostness that so deeply permeates society. Our addiction make us cling to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink, and sexual gratification without distinguishing between lust and love. These addictions create expectations that cannot but fail to satisfy our deepest needs. As long as we live within the world's delusions, our addictions condemn us to futile quests in "the distant country," leaving us to face an endless series of disillusionments while our sense of self remains unfulfilled. In these days of increasing addictions, we have wandered far away from our Father's home. The addicted life can aptly be designated a life lived in "a distant country." It is from there that our cry for deliverance rises up.” 41 likes
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