Thank you for reading along with me. Last Thursday, Sister Wendy included one of my favourite paintings, “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt. Readers of “Gabriel’s Inferno” will recall mention of this painting as hanging in Richard Clark’s study. He makes reference to it when he calls his son, Scott, into his office to speak about Scott’s attitude toward his brother, Gabriel.
As part of my Lenten reflections, I’ve been looking at the painting Sister Wendy chooses each day and examining it before reading her reflection. After reading her reflection, I look at the painting again.
This past Thursday, on a second look at the painting, I noticed the prodigal son is missing a shoe, or perhaps it has come apart and fallen off. The missing shoe is a small detail but Rembrandt conveys so much with this absence; it marks extreme poverty and desperation. Perhaps it conveys the long walk the son had to make his way home. William Shakespeare mentions “troubling deaf heaven with his bootless cries,” in his Sonnet 29. He uses the adjective “bootless” to indicate that his cries are worthless. Perhaps Rembrandt is communicating a similar thing by removing the shoe of the prodigal.
Then there’s what could be the brother, standing to our right in the painting. He’s looking down at the prodigal. He’s standing apart from him. Those of us whose cries have been bootless understand the prodigal, but the brother doesn’t. He hasn’t found himself in that desperate form and so he keeps his distance. From the story in Scripture, we know that the brother reacts with judgment and condemnation. But those of us who have truly felt desperate or in despair know how the prodigal is feeling. In him, I see myself. O to be able to return to my father’s house and be welcomed with open arms, even though I am impoverished and shoeless …
The painting, like the parable in Scripture, shows us unconditional love and the open arms of God that await us. We are not alone and we are loved.
I welcome your comments below and as we embark on a new week, feel free to comment on any of the paintings we encounter on our journey this week.
Peace be with you all,
KAREN RODRIGUEZ says
It’s great that you accompany Sister Wendy’s appointments every day. Your analysis in this regard helps a lot and expands the experience. Besides, you make us reflect.
Kun Mónika says
Thank you so much for your thought provoking words, SR. This story has always been very close to me and touches me every time I read it or reflect on it. And this painting is amazing. It’s so good that you mentioned it in “Gabriel’s Inferno”, because it helped me a lot to feel Gabriel’s and Scott’s situation even more deeply and to get even closer to their character. Last year I read “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Henri J.M. Nouwen. I loved it so much. His book is a detailed analysis of this story, of Rembrandt’s painting, and it is also a beautiful and profound testimony. I recommend it to everyone. This story is so complex. It’s not just about the returning son, but also about the brother and the father. Most of us first identify with the younger son, but do we realize that sometimes we are the older brother? I think it’s worth thinking about… But the point is what you have also written. No matter what we have done, no matter what weighs on us, no matter what tears our hearts, God always loves us, waits for us, forgives us again and again. And that is a solid foundation on which we can build our whole lives.
Sylvain Reynard says
Thank you so much, Monika, for your support.
And thank you for recommending Nouwen’s book.
All the best, SR
Kun Mónika says
Dear SR, you are very welcome. I am happy to support you. And thank you for all you give us, for all you do for us. Have a great day! 🙂