Friday, December 2, 2011

Digesting the words

               Yesterday when I arrived at our office, Demi Pentiss excitedly asked me if I was aware of a second book on the parable of “the man who had two sons” by Henri Nouwen.  I replied I was not aware of the book, so she gave me her copy to peruse.  Entitled Home Tonight, Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, published by Doubleday, it is a series of meditations taken from talks at a conference/retreat for a group of caregivers from L’Arche communities.  On almost every page is a quotation from Scripture, a writer of note, or from one of Father Nouwen’s books.

   In the introduction written by Sue Mosteller, who gathered the notes from the workshop which Nouwen led and published them following the priest’s death, I discovered this quotation from Parker J. Palmer:  “The marvelous thing about learning from a story is that the story never ends, so our learning from it need not end either.”  (From The Active Life, Harper and Row, 1990)  This is precisely why I believe this parable is so wonderful for us in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth: we are able to see both our personal lives and the experience of the diocese over the past few years unfold and become illuminated in new and deepened ways of understanding.

          Yesterday when I invited you to read yourself into the parable, to take on one of the characters with which you identify, I really asked you to move into the story and discover your own life’s story therein.  In the days ahead, we are going to explore each of the characters and see how we might identify ourselves with all them as well.  That might, perhaps, be a real challenge, for who wants to be as grumpy as the older brother, and some might not be able to identify the internal adolescent younger brother.  Other characters also can prove difficult for some of us.  But please bear with me.

          Finally, if you have not re-read the parable today, I want to encourage you to do so.  See if there is some detail that you might have missed yesterday that leaps out this day.  I never cease to be astonished at how frequently someone has re-written my Bible to include a word or a phrase that was never there before in all of the multitude of times I read a particular passage.  In truth, for whatever reason, I was not ready to hear and receive an insight that just today becomes available to me.  So read again, and slowly.  Digest the words one by one.  We all had the same mother, and she told us to eat slowly, chewing our food thoroughly, not gulping down our meals, lest we miss some of the delights of taste, texture, and aroma.

          As they say in Italia, “Mange.”


  1. I think the story of the Prodigal Son could be quite synonymous with what is going on between the Diocese of Fort Worth (Episcopal Church) & the Diocese of Fort Worth (Southern Cone). Perhaps this is a tale of Two Brothers. One brother departs the place he has always known. The other brother stays behind to tend the fields. When the two are back in the same place, there are mixed feelings by the one who has remained in place. The Father explains to the oldest son, the one who remained that, "You are always with me, and everything I have is yours."

    Perhaps we could also reflect on the words of 1 Chronicles 29:14b, which is used in most churches after the offertory, that says "all things come of Thee O Lord, and of thine own have we given Thee."

    The brother who remained has toiled and given back to the Father's land. Who is to say that the other brother, even though departed from that land, hasn't toiled in some manner (prayer life, etc)? We do not see that in the story. All we know is that the Prodigal's son has returned. The Father has welcomed him with open arms. And the Father says to the oldest son that all belongs to him as well.

    This is a story of becoming reconciled from several angles. Both brothers did what they thought was right for them at the time. The exercised their own conscience. The lesson in all of this is that even when setting out to follow your heart - no matter how disruptive or how much pain is caused or the like - God is there with each of us, loving us into being, arms stretched out. This is how we are to be. This is how the oldest son needed to be. This is reconciliation.

  2. One interesting perspective, I believe, is by taking the perspective of the servants of the family. They fall into an "in-between" space of being intimate with the family, but also being outsiders.
    Rob Huttmeyer

  3. Just a short FYI. Henri Nouwen's book The Prodigal Son will be available the middle of this week at the Barnes & Noble at North East Mall, if anyone is interested.


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