The Hands

Henri Nouwen’s seminal work “The Return of the Prodigal Son”. Rembrandt’s painting of the same name has hung in the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, Russia since 1766. Nouwen spent four hours looking at it, and endless time after in his return to life and ministry. His book is a must read, as he identifies parts of himself in every character of the story, probing the movements of the younger son’s leaving and return, the father’s restoration of sonship, the elder son’s vengefulness, and the father’s compassion. Themes of homecoming, affirmation, and reconciliation linger as invitations for that part of us that knows loneliness, dejection, jealousy or anger.

Poignant for me is Nouwen’s conclusion that “The true center of Rembrandt’s painting is the hands of the Father. On them all the light is concentrated; on them the eyes of the bystanders are focused; in them mercy becomes flesh; upon them forgiveness, reconciliation and healing come together, and through them not only the tired son, but also the worn-out father find their rest.” Finally reflecting on the call of Jesus to “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate”, Henri concludes that “The return to the Father is ultimately the challenge to become the Father…I am destined to step into my Father’s place and offer to others the same compassion that he has offered me.”

I come back to this reflection each year when Lent is on the horizon, and the story of the passionate love and self-sacrifice of Jesus is told once again. His hands will be pierced through, only after he carries the weight of his own cross. His scarred but resurrected hands will hug Peter and the rest in restoration.

Take some time to look at and meditate on the hands of the father Rembrandt has for us, and look too with some slow time at your own again hands, and consider what weapons of loving they have become for God’s use.

Nouwen concludes, “As I look at my own aging hands, I know that they have been given to me to stretch out toward all who suffer, to rest upon the shoulders of all who come, and to offer blessing that emerges from the immensity of God’s love.”

A blessed Lent comes close to us. Those hands, and your hands.

Peter Hawkinson

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