Prodigal Wanderings, Returning Home

Return of the Prodigal Son

I left home quite some time ago. Here, I do not write of the leaving home I did at age 19. No, I mean that over a year ago I left the holy sanctuary of God’s surrounding love and squandered away some of my blessed life.

Leaving home…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 palm of God’s hands and hidden in their shadows…Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home and must look far and wide to find one.
(Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 37)

Henri Nouwen so beautifully writes his journey home from depths and dark places in The Return of the Prodigal Son. Long ago acquainted with Nouwen’s work, this is one I missed—until now. His writing and life bring hope to me in an otherwise heartbreaking period in my life. Years of balance, strength, and peace have met their demise in the wake of rage and resentment. I am broken, shattered by a series of events in my own life, the choices I have made; and swallowed by similar downfalls in my family. Oh, what have I become that I obsess and rage instead of listen and pray?

In this moment of night I find myself emerging from melancholy to feel the embrace of God, rejoicing in another day, and thankful for shelter and food. I want it to linger, so I keep awake long into the night.

Nouwen says of home:

Home is the center of my being where I can hear the voice that says, “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.”—the same voice that gave life to the first Adam and spoke to Jesus…the same voice that speaks to all the children of God and sets them free to live in the midst of a dark world while remaining in the light. (37)

I have so many places, physical and emotion that have been “home”. Nouwen introduces the home that only a loving God can bring, and this home, I believe is expansive enough to encompass all places and times of being at home. These are “home” because I am loved by God.

Fearful of failure, I forge on. This is not the first time I have been at these crossroads, nor will it be the last. I should hope, however, that I am through one horrible cycle of self-destruction. The fear in me waits to fall again, and it says to me in a hurried tone: this time you may be on your own, even if you break through the darkness. Enter the image of the prodigal son—broken and shamed, he is embraced by his father. It is at the same time comforting and heartbreaking, as I prepare to welcome God’s embrace, and yet still have broken family and relations that are unresolved.

Faith keeps me going. “Faith,” Nouwen writes, “is the radical trust that home has always been there and always will be there.” Come what may with family, community, job, finances, health this radical trust believes I am home.

Annie Dillard writes of running from this love, too. In her book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, she writes:

Even now I wonder: if I meet God, will he take and hold my bare hand in his, and focus his eye on my palm, and kindle that spot and let me burn? But no. It is I who misunderstood everything and let everybody down. Miss White, God, I am sorry I ran from you. I am still running, running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge. For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain. Sone once in Isarel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid. (p. 141)

So here I am. Unsure of what lies ahead. But, for the time being, safely held by God.


psalm 13. or o god, where are you?

A shrouded pathwhile the waiting continues, i must journey through some rocky terrain.  the job i anxiously awaited did not come into my favor.  that alone is a disappointment—one that heals quickly—yet there is more that ushers in sadness.  a series of events, seemingly falling on top of me in succession has left me confused and disoriented.  it is a season of sadness that will pass.  this i know.  but i wonder, as the psalmist does, “how long, o lord? will you forget me forever?

how long must i wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? how long will my enemy triumph over me?

i do have selfish, negative thoughts.  i fight daily to purge them from my body and mind.  this is why i feel the psalmists cries in psalm 13.  somehow the genuine sadness and grief, and confusion of relationships has turned in on itself and become distorted.

its not solely concerning myself—someone i hold dear to my heart has been violated.  and a friend’s mother has died. i weep for her, i weep for her future, i weep for my friend and his loss, and i hope.  i hope for the justice only god can bring.  but i wonder, as another friend did recently, where is god sometimes?

and i turn to sufjan stevens to accompany me, as he sings, “o god, where are you now?  o lord, say somehow. the devil is hard on my face again.  the world is a hundred to one again.  would the righteous still remain.  would my body stay the same.  o god, hold me now.  o lord, touch me now.  there’s no other man who could save the dead.  there’s no other god to place our head…”

the psalm ends with hope.  that’s where i end, too.

but i trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  i will sing to the lord, for he has been good to me.

amen. so say we all.