Friday, 18 March 2016
Where Was the Prodigal Son's Mother?
Last year I 'discovered' Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son when reading Henri Nouwen's book. I printed out a copy and often simply hold it on my lap, gazing at the images of the different characters and run my fingers lightly over it. There is a large copy of the painting standing at the base of the lectern of Eglise St-Antoine de Padoue in Longueuil and so I see it most afternoons at the 4:30 Mass. And, of course, this is the Year of Mercy in the RC Church.
Mercy. My watchword these days. Mercy towards others. Mercy towards myself. God's mercy. As I swim lengths at the pool three times a week in the early morning, I breathe in mercy and exhale mercy.
At the clergy retreat earlier this week, I again held the image - and was aware in new ways that each character is part of me - of each of us really - but I'm speaking for myself.
The one who returns. The one who welcomes in love and mercy. The un-merciful older brother who is resentful of the fuss - who doesn't understand that all that belongs to the wayward one has always belonged to him as well. Can I accept love and mercy? Do I have to judge myself so harshly for being human and having messed up here and there and ... well, you get it ...
BUT! A new thought came. isn't it awesome how insights crash in or sneak in or - well whatever... because as my fingers passed lightly over each figure, I noticed the person in the shadows of the centre, behind the father - leaning on the wall looking on with gentleness and curiosity. Who is this person? And I suddenly wondered where the mother of the prodigal had been through this entire story. Not only that, but in a clearer, better lit version than the one I was holding, there is another figure in the shadows - back left - even more hidden.
Either or both of these figures could be female. One of them might be his mother. Ohhhh...
Where was she when he came to his father and asked for his share of the wealth and took off for parts unknown? Was he her favourite - as the younger son - sort of like Jacob and Esau? Did she cry when he left? (Duhhh...) Did she pray ceaselessly through the years, not knowing where he was - alive or dead? Did she hope against hope that one day he would return? Was it her prayers that, unbeknownst to him, helped him turn around and come back, begging mercy?
Even though one of the Father's hands has a smaller, feminine aspect while the other is larger, stronger, tougher, male - that's not enough to bring in the feminine aspect of God ... Where was his mother?
And is it she standing in the shadows - longing for her chance when Dad's finished, to clutch him to her breast, crying with relief and joy? Was she remembering him as a baby and a toddler learning to walk and talk and become independent? Was he a rascal? Was she remembering him asking about the stars and galaxies, the wonders of the world around them? Did he excitedly show her the scorpion's hiding place and the nest of a dove? Did she see him in her mind's eye preparing for his bar mitzvah and becoming a young man? Did he ask her about the world beyond their home - and did he not need to go off to explore and know?
Ahhh... something was missing. Rembrandt didn't leave out his mother, I'm thinking. She's there hidden - loving - longing - merciful ...