“He that answereth a matter before he heareth [it], it [is] folly and shame unto him.” Proverbs 18:13 KJV
The experiences of life will teach us many things if we would take the time to really observe and reflect before we act or speak. This is illustrated in the life of Henri Nouwen as he describes a life changing encounter with a Rembrandt masterpiece, the Prodigal Son. In fact, he was so profoundly affected by this work that it led him to take a deeper look at the familiar Bible story. He shared some of those reflections with us in his book, “The Return of the Prodigal Son”.
As I began my reading of his book I was struck by two things: His state of being when he first encountered a poster of the painting and the length of time that he took to reflect on the way it impacted him. First, his state of being: He described himself as being exhausted emotionally and physically from a tour of lectures and the strain of the world of academia. In that vulnerable emotional condition, he found himself comforted by the depth of love, acceptance and warmth expressed by the father to his returning son. It spoke to his need of a safe place where he could find rest and acceptance.
Second, the amount of time he reflected on it. It was almost two years from the time he first saw a poster of the painting (which he bought) that would change his life to the day that he would see the actual work hanging in a gallery in Saint Petersburg, Russia. During those two years he would often look at the picture and find comfort in it. When, however he saw the actual painting the impact was even greater. He gazed at it for hours, noting the size, the colors, how the painting changed as the sunlight moved across it. He became more aware of the characters depicted by the artist and reflected on their parts in the story. All this only served to deepen the impact that this work had on him.
If a painting can do that, what can people do? We are in the business of encounters with people who are in various states of crisis. We are in a privileged position to impact their lives profoundly for good, there is no preferred alternative. Therefore we must be aware of our state of being and manage it in such a way as to help those we care for to feel a sense of trust, hope and community. Wisdom would have us reflect on every encounter so that we can intentionally improve upon the next.
Be a blessing.
Mark A. Stoddart, M.Div.
Administrative Director for Spiritual Wellness
Shawnee Mission Medical Center