Category: Inspiring Books

Inspiring Books: The Return of the Prodigal Son (Henri Nouwen)

“All of my life is there.  All of the lives of my friends is there.  The painting has become a mysterious window…It is like a huge gate that allows  me to move to the other side of existence and look from there back into the odd assortment of people and events that make up my daily life.” 

Henri Nouwen is writing about this painting by Rembrandt in his book, “The Return of the Prodigal Son”:


I have posted on this as an “Inspiring Painting” before.  But recently I have been re-reading this book, and wanted to share some of what is so inspirational about it.

Henri Nouwen’s life moved from being a lecturer at Harvard University, to working amongst people with learning and other severe difficulties.

He contemplates the meaning of his career spent ministering on university campus, in words which inspires this poem:

I have studied

            the sayings of the wise


And learned all laws

            with diligence


Am I doomed, then,

            to the darkness


Of the critical one

            frowning in judgment

                        and cursing in contempt? 

Henri Nouwen looks at how in his own life he has felt like a runaway (the son kneeling in the painting), like one standing in judgment (the elder brother, standing on the right), but also as one “coming home” to see God:

The shadows

            on his face


May be changed

            by the rays of love


May we perceive

            that transfiguration


As we enter the gaze

            that invites us to share

                        his unshakable faith.

The book is not only autobiographical, it is also about the life of Rembrandt, the painter, and also of course, about the parable Jesus told about “the prodigal son”.

Inspiring Art: The Book of Kells

The exuberant wild



Of God

Of human art


Where circles

Mathematically perfect


Orbit the word

With angels



Rats and cats


And the human face

Of a saviour


Twists enigmatically

Through his name.


The “Chi Rho” page of the Book of Kells – opening words to Matthew 1.18 – “XRI B GENERATIO”
  • The two moths can be found top left
  • There are three angels down the side of the left-hand letter
  • The rats and cats are near the bottom
  • The “face of a saviour” is easier to spot, part of the spiral of what looks like a “p” [Greek “rho”]

Inspiring Books – Journey of the Mind to God (Prologue)


It’s only 39 pages long but I find it unfailingly inspiring to read.


He knows how to begin!


“In the beginning, I call upon the very first beginning…”


I wrote:


So let us begin

            with the beginning


The source of all

            from whom streams all





                                    all of creation


The Father of lights

            from whom is every good

                        and perfect gift




And he moves to that powerful word “peace”:

“…enlighten the eyes of our mind to guide our feet into the way of peace…His message of peace our father Francis ever repeated, announcing ‘Peace’…making every greeting a wish for peace, making every prayer a sigh for ecstatic peace…”


I wrote:


Remember St. Francis

            who greeted in peace

announced peace before all

            prayed in ecstasy for peace


Following the man of peace

            we worship


Whose honour was nailed to a post

            in spite of all the love

                        and the healing he gave


And he makes contemplation and prayer sound so exciting!

“…no one is in any way disposed for divine contemplations that lead to spiritual transports unless…he is also a man of desires…such desires are enkindled in us…through the outcry of prayer, which makes one sigh from anguish of heart, and through the refulgence of speculation by which the mind most directly and intensely turns itself towards the rays of light”.


I wrote:


To escape

            the merely active life


And dwell

            in imagination


Allowing God

            to brush the spirit

                        with the Spirit of consolation.


The writer is known at St. Bonaventure to day, and the text is called “Journey of the Mind to God”.

Inspired by Joy and Failure…


“Life is a mosaic, made up of small pieces of human experience common to us all but lived uniquely by each one of us”, Joan Chittester writes on p.3 of a beautiful and profound book called “There is a Season”.

She inspired me to understand the sequences of life’s experience in a new way, and I wrote this:


Journeying from one season

To another,


Soul travels

The way of life,



Its inner colours


Like the flowers,

Like the leaves.


changingcolours CHITTESTER


Her book is a series of meditations on an amazing piece of artwork created by John August Swanson, which you can view here:

The work is based on words from the Book of Ecclesiastes, which is sometimes seen as a gloomy text, but Chittester manages to find inspiration time and time again.  Even feath and failure can lead to life, she says, which inspired this:



Made a new beginning


In loss

I found a living way


Death was a gate

To wisdom and hope


Life comes from somewhere

Again and again and again.


gatewayhope CHITTESTER


And she goes on to write about the wonders of joy, which inspired the last two pieces of my poetry I will include in this post.



is a taste of the timeless



into the present



from mystery


Whose destination’s



Whose moment

is ecstasy,


A flapping

of wings,


And then

joy has flown.


joytastetimeless CHITTESTER

Joys fly to us

like the angels


But if we close

our minds


They sing

for a while


Then hasten