Greetings to each of you. And I pray that you are experiencing God’s blessings on your day this very day, even as I write these words.
The early days and weeks of 2015 have been so filled with God’s grace and love. Even though I often only feel the full warmth of His touch after He has passed by, my life—our lives—are so continuously blessed.
I have just finished reading Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son in preparation for the Lenten Retreat being hosted online by Ray Glennon and Brynn Lawrence for the Henri Nouwen Society.
I would feel guilty for jumping the gun with our Lenten reading, except 1.) Ray and Brynn said I could (it’s ok to laugh — I sound like a child, even to my own ear); and 2.) it takes me a while to assimilate the words I read. Now that I have read it through once, I can read Return of the Prodigal Son in a more disciplined way during the retreat (well, that’s the desire anyway).
So, it was as a direct result of read Henri’s Return of the Prodigal Son, that I chanced to open The Story of Painting by Sister Wendy Beckett.
Bear with me here, I’m going to loop this back ‘round to a point here soon.
The first words I read were in the forward to the Story of Painting in which Sr Wendy says:
“…This book is my faltering attempt to offer the security of a knowledgeable background, which will help to make whatever art we see more accessible. Some people are certainly held back from a fearless gaze at painting because they fear their own ignorance. Truly to look remains one’s personal responsibility, and nobody else’s response (and certainly not my own) can be a substitute. But knowledge must come to us from outside, from reading, listening, and viewing. If we know that we know, we can perhaps dare to look. Love and knowledge go hand in hand. When we love, we always want to know, and this book will succeed if it starts the reader on the track that leads to more reading, greater knowledge, greater love, and, of course, greater happiness.”
There’s something deeply moving and inviting about Sr Wendy’s words—inviting one into her writing about painting, certainly—but also inviting and comforting in their call to some deeper place within that recognizes the universality… of these words. Listen again:
… If we know that we know, we can perhaps dare to look. Love and knowledge go hand in hand. When we love, we always want to know …
This thought frames completely and so simply my reaction to God, the God I have just recently been allowed to experience, my Father, who found my heart fully ready and fully open to Him in His loving compassion. For me as for many, I expect, I had “held back from a fearless gaze” at God…maybe ‘because of my fear of my own own ignorance,’ my own shame, my own self-denial and ‘self-rejection,’ as Henri Nouwen would call it.
When the scales fell from my eyes and my heart, I ‘knew that I knew’ His love. I understood, if only dimly, His joy for my return to Him. I knew, if only in the shadows of my being, His compassion for my heavy heart, an empty heart that was all I had left to offer to Him…yet a heart overflowing with such love for Him.
“Love and knowledge go hand in hand,” counsels Sister Wendy in her forward. And I knew. With a certainty that defied all my human understanding, this knowledge of Him, this love for Him demanded passionately that I know Him more, understand Him better, experience Him more deeply, walk with Him more freely on the way He has planned for me…on the way…”on the track that leads to more reading, greater knowledge, greater love, and, of course, greater happiness.”
It was Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son that caused me to open Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting, in the first place. The book, a gift, has been sitting on my shelf for at least 10 years waiting for me to crack its cover. Understanding art has never been a great passion for me. (Even now, you can readily see that I have been struck more by her words, than by the art she will be describing.)
But, Henri described his own divinely inspired passion for Rembrandt’s painting, the Prodigal Son, wrapping it so lovingly and gently and painstakingly with his own experiences and understanding and insights and revelations. Henri not only made me want to explore more deeply the two sons and the father embedded in my own being, but to see for myself—to apprehend in my own consciousness—the divine depths of Rembrandt’s Prodigal.
Where words and nature have always been the most direct routes to my heart, I know others are lifted and inspired by art and music. Maybe, just maybe, spiritual art – Rembrandt’s and others – might offer me an additional glimpse, another way to understand God’s word.
And so, I continue on my way searching for “more reading, greater knowledge, greater love, and, of course, greater happiness” and the love that passes all understanding.
I encourage you to join me this Lent. I’ll be retreating online with the Henri Nouwen Society as they read and discuss Henri’s Return of the Prodigal Son. I have been so wonderfully blessed by Henri Nouwen’s writing and by the Society’s online retreats that focus on his writing. Their Lenten retreat starts February 18th. It promises to be awesome.