Feb 23, 2010

Prayer - Its Nature and Action

Prayer by its nature is communion and union of man with God; by its action it is...

the reconciliation of man with God,

the mother and daughter of tears,

a bridge for crossing temptations,

a wall of protection from afflictions,

a crushing of conflicts,

boundless activity,

the spring of virtues,

the source of spiritual gifts,

invisible progress,

food of the soul,

the enlightening of the mind,

an axe for despair,

a demonstration of hope,

release from sorrow,

the wealth of monks.

- Abba Agathon, Patriarch of Alexandria, 7th century

Feb 19, 2010

More on the Prodigal Son...

The joy at the dramatic return of the younger son in no way means that the elder son was less loved, less appreciated, less favored. The father does not compare the two sons. He loves them both with a complete love and expresses that love according to their individual journeys. He knows them both intimately. He understands their highly unique gifts and shortcomings. He sees with love the passion of his younger son, even when it is not regulated by obedience. With the same love, he sees the obedience of the elder son, even when it is not vitalized by passion. With the younger son there are no thoughts of better or worse, more or less, just as there are no measuring sticks with the elder son. The father responds to both according to their uniqueness.  The return of the younger son makes him call for a joyful celebration. The return of the elder son makes him extend an invitation to full participation in that joy.

"In the house of my father there are many places to live," Jesus says. Each child of God has there his or her unique place, all of them places of God. I have to let go of all comparison, all rivalry and competition, and surrender to the Father's love. This requires a leap of faith because I have little experience of non-comparing love and do not know the healing power of such a love. As long as I stay out in the darkness, I can only remain in the resentful complaint that results from my comparisons. Outside of the light, my younger brother seems to be more loved by the Father than I; in fact, outside of the light, I cannot even see him as my brother.

- The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri J.M. Nouwen

Feb 17, 2010

Leaving Home

I have been rereading The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen.  It is a marvelous discussion and analysis of the parable told by Jesus while at the same time using Rembrandt's famous painting of the same name.  As Nouwen tells the tale of the  younger son who demanded his inheritance, left home, and foolishly squandered it all, he considers the true meaning of "leaving home."
Leaving home is, then, much more than an historical event bound to time and place. It is a denial of the spiritual reality that I belong to God with every part of my being, that God holds me safe in an eternal embrace, that I am indeed carved in the palms of God's hands and hidden in their shadows. Leaving home means ignoring the truth that God has "fashioned me in secret, moulded me in the depths of the earth and knitted me together in my mother's womb." Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home and must look far and wide to find one.

It is easy for us to think, "Well, I can't identify with the prodigal son, because I never did that."  But we need to think beyond the external facts. Consider Nouwen's verbs:

  • denial of the spiritual reality that I belong to God

  • ignoring the truth that God has created me

  • living as though I have no home and must look for another

Which of us can say these aren't daily struggles? The battle is great and constant. God have mercy!