Light and Shadow (Rembrandt – Henri Nouwen)

Happy Tuesday everyone!

I wanted to share a few quotes from Henri Nouwen:

“Being is more important than doing”

“The heart is more important than the mind”

“To give and receive love is at the center of humanity”

“It is better to be together than to be alone”

the return of the prodigal son rembrandt - priorhouse 2014
The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, 1669


I finished reading Henri Nouwen’s book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, this past weekend and when David Crowder’s “Shadows” song came on, well it all lined up so well I had to use it in a slideshow:

Normally I do NOT like religious art, especially the excessive paintings from the Baroque period (just not my preference), but Nouwen’s writing gave me a new appreciation for The Prodigal Son –  the painting and the story.

henri nouwen's book

In his book, Henri Nouwen reflects on and critiques Rembrandt’s painting of the lost son who comes home – and he uses the story to discuss changes in both Rembrandt’s transformed life and his own.

 “When Rembrandt painted the Prodigal, he had lived a life marked by great self-confidence, success, and fame, followed by many painful losses, disappointments, and failures” (p. 64).

Through it all he had moved from the exterior light to the interior light, from the portrayal of external events to the portrayal of inner meanings, from a life full of things to a life more marked by solitude and silence.

With age, Rembrandt grew more Reflective and still. It was a spiritual homecoming 

Rembrandts 1636 etching
Rembrandt’s 1636 etching of the prodigal son


Nouwen shares about his own homecoming:

“The return was also from my complaining, comparing, resentful self to my true self that is free to give and receive love.

And even though there have been, and undoubtedly will continue to be, many setbacks, it brought me to the beginning of the freedom to live my own life and die my own death.

The return of the “Father from whom all fatherhood takes its name” allows me to let my dad be no less than the good, loving, but limited human being he is, and to let my heavenly Father be the God whose unlimited, unconditional love melts away all resentments and anger and makes me free to love beyond the need to please of find approval” (p 83)

Rembrandts 1642 drawing
Rembrandt’s 1642 drawing of the prodigal son

Nouwen also shares that the Father of the returning son carries a new and mysterious light by which he sees.

“It is an inner light, deeply hidden, but radiating on all pervasive tender beauty.  This inner light, however, had remained hidden for a long time. For many years it remained unreachable for Rembrandt. Only gradually and through much anguish did he come to know that light within himself, and through himself, and in those he painted. Before being like the father, Rembrandt was for a long time like the proud young man who ‘got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money” (p 30).

Although Rembrandt would never become completely free of debt and debtors, in his early fifties he was able to find a modicum of peace.” 

Rosenberg writes that as Rembrandt aged and was sculpted through hard times, “he began to regard man and nature with an even more penetrating eye, no longer distracted by outward splendor or theatrical display.” 

Have a great day – and remember – we all go through hard times and each of us will have different things to endure and work through – but quite often the setbacks and hard times are a gift – because they can humble us and allow us to see — and appreciate — what really matters!


Priorhouse 2014






50 thoughts on “Light and Shadow (Rembrandt – Henri Nouwen)

    1. Hi Julie – and well I always thought the big twist to the parable related to the son who stayed and did not go wild – but whew, I also like how Nouwen talks about how the feminine and masculine hands of the father are representative of God’s motherly and fatherly attributes – which goes beyond gender as we know it…. ❤


        1. How cool this is – thanks! and what a coincidence that Nouwen’s two favorites artists were Rembrandt and van Gogh – and this show you linked opens with van Gogh’s take on Rembramdt’s work. (spooky cool)

          From the site:

          An exhibition of the late works of Rembrandt opens at London’s National Gallery this week, on the first step in a journey that will take many of the works back to Amsterdam, the city where they were created in the 17th Century.

          “The story goes that upon viewing Rembrandt’s Jewish Bride for the first time in 1885, Vincent Van Gogh said: “I should be happy to give 10 years of my life if I could go on sitting here in front of this picture for a fortnight, with only a crust of dry bread for food.”

          In a letter to his brother Theo, he wrote: “What an intimate, what an infinitely sympathetic painting.”

          The Jewish Bride, officially known as Portrait of a Couple as Isaac and Rebecca, dates from about 1665 and is one of the key paintings on show as part of Rembrandt: The Late Works at the National Gallery.
          Organised in collaboration with Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, the exhibition is the first to explore Rembrandt’s final years from about 1652 to his death in 1669.

          The exhibition features some 40 paintings, 20 drawings and 30 prints that are on loan from around the world.

          Thanks Julie – 🙂 ❤


  1. I really am grateful to you for this post today, Yvette. I am in a very painful period that I have come to know as the Void, which marks the way for Path for me to go inward even more deeply. Spiritual Growth comes not easily and it usually has markers of much loss and pain. This post brought this awareness to me, which in turn brought much relief. Why? No matter how many times I find myself in the Void I feel scared and I do not wish to be there at all. Now with acceptance and knowing that I am growing, I can let go of the struggle and just BE. Bless you! Love, Amy


    1. well I am really liking your comment too ❤ – so thanks – and to "let go of the struggle and just BE" – let's add to that a deep breathe and hot cup of tea! and a working iPad!! lol


      1. LOL I’ve given up on the iPad, Yvette. It’s as good as it’s gonna get. So I’ve stopped the struggle. Lesson learned. No more downloads. (((HUGS))) Amy


  2. What a moving life journe of Rembrandt! You wrapped so perfectly with Rosenberg’s quote. Thank you so much for sharing your reading, thoughts… Yvette!


    1. Thanks so much Amy – and another reason I wanted to share what I read is because sometimes the ONLY way we learn is through setback or through l o n g waiting periods – and so we should not feel like we are being punished or slighted – sometimes it is like cultivating the soil so things can grow….
      🙂 ❤


  3. Love the quotes that you began the post with Y. Focusing on being rather than doing. that one will really stick with me today as we return to our ‘normal’ living. Thank you.


    1. Hi Sue – and that is why I also think it all takes context – and balance -right?
      Because life would be so boring without “doing” – which for y’all is cycling and sharing your essence with international folks along the cycling pathway –
      and for Henri Nouwen – well he would not have written more than 40 books and learned to speak fluently in English, Dutch, German, French and Spanish if he was just being still in his room all day. And so I think what he personally struggled with = which he also perceived wa sa human condition = was that of being defined by only our “productivity” and also unable to be content from successes – where things escalate and inner peace is never found – and some may call it mountain top living – but it just comes down to context – because one of my other favorite quotes is from Niecy Nash…
      sometimes you we need to just “get tot gettin'” and not be lazy or too settled – instead – we need to let a little tension and angst put the fire under feet to get our butts moving…. ha!


    1. Hi Susan, I like that part too – and actually this book has been sitting on our shelf since the 90’s – and it somehow got saved from the give away box a few times over the years -and the funny thing is I did not realize it would be so much about the art- many times a masterpiece on the cover does not mean it is about the art – but in this case it was… thanks for dropping by 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve always felt drawn to Rembrandt’s paintings, his ‘light and shadow’. What beautiful words shared from Noewen’s writings. I was moved by the depth of feeling and humility in this post Y. I think this is a book I need to read. Have a wonderful rest of the week mon amie ❤


    1. bon jour mon amie ❤ well if you do read it, I do not think you will be disappointed – I highlighted so many sections I finally just stopped.
      And for about three days I received the "Henri Nouwen daily email" but it was way too "religious" and also has verbiage – that was for a certain religion (and nothing against those two things, just did not apply to me) anyhow, thanks for the sweet compliment 🙂 ~ hugs to you across the sea


      1. Hmm, yes I see what you mean and I would agree. But again, I did so much enjoy your post, it was beautifully put together with the art and the pieces you quoted as well as your own thoughts. Hugs back mon amie, have a super day 🙂 ❤


  5. Inspiring post Yvette! Nouwen’s quotes are still applicable to the present days! Interesting review from you and I love the way you sum up that no matter hard times we face, we can learn from it, be humble and be appreciative..great post!


  6. “but quite often the setbacks and hard times are a gift – because they can humble us and allow us to see — and appreciate — what really matters!”
    –Very well said. I agree. Not fun to go through, but unearthly gifts come from them.


    1. Hi Stacilys, your comment actually reminded me of your recent With Emotion poem about how music influences emotions and also reminds me as to how MUSIC can be a nice buffer or coping tool during some of the hardest or most parched days…

      and I recall hearing a lady on FOF who was a young widow with two kids – and the only thing that brought them any bit of solace in the first few days – was music! It lifted the heaviness and allowed a breathe of air.
      and your words are tasty:
      “Let’s make sweet music, you and I
      Stirring the soul, touching the sky
      Rhythms and notes to abide by
      Affeto will fly, affeto will fly

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Awwww, thank you so much. I’m so glad that my poem really touched you and that you could relate. That’s wonderful. What a great testimony too about the young widow. I can’t imagine being a young widow with my two kids. That would be so difficult and grievous. Imagine how it must be for those that don’t have faith in the Almighty.
        Bless you.
        🙂 ❤


  7. Sometimes I wish that I could have told Rembrandt to write more about his inner feelings as he was developing his paintings. We know so little of his inner thoughts. I don’t know why he always seemed to be in debt – it’s very unorthodox for a Dutchman. From childhood it would be drilled into you that you can’t make any debts, and have to live within your means.
    Once I looked up the meaning of his R.’s name. “brandt” means fire, and the prefix “rem” increases/intensifies of what follows. He certainly lived up to his name:)
    Thanks for this post – I enjoyed it immensely (and David Crowder is one of my favorite musicians:) )
    By the way, I never got back to you about your reply before summer vacation (about why some artists become famous and others not – paraphrased) – I really appreciate the time you took! I didn’t forget about it, but moving from South to North California took all my energy- just a tip of an ice berg – we had to hire 4 real estate agents before we could move into our new house).


    1. Hi jsh – well not sure if you read it yet, but if not, you really should read Henri Nouwen’s book because it highlights some excellent things about Rembrandt’s life journey – and while Rembrandt did not leave reflective journals, his art does leave us much. His art over the years portrays the ups and downs of his life – and Rembrandt esp. communicates his changes through each self- portrait as he first strongly depicts pride and then, later, humility (in everything from posture to attire).

      Henri Nouwen also notes how Rembrandt’s last version of the Prodigal (1669) is so detailed because of his life scourging and growth – whereas in Rembrandt’s earlier versions of the Prodigal (1636 & 1642) – he gives us a limited view of this story.
      For example, the early drawing only has the older brother as a mere onlooker and he is young and not that important- but the seasoned Rembrandt later “feels” the older brother’s experience much more – and the later painting highlights that (as well as other social things of that day).

      Nouwen suggests that Rembrandt experiences all three roles in his life – he is early on like the “lost son” who parties and goes a bit wild – then he is like the older brother – and then even finds himself in the role of the father.
      I do not have access to my book right now or I would give you a few examples of what Henri writes – but seriously, if you have not read it – you must get it to enjoy. I was not even in the mood for art when I pulled this book off the shelf earlier this month. I had read (skimmed) a Henri Nouwen book at my friend Nesa’s house back in 2006 – on a trip to see my step-daughter there – and on the final day I soaked up that book while waiting for my friend to come home from work. Then… over dinner, some great middle eastern food from a small deli in Denver, we talked about a few of Nouwen’s timeless points – about love and fear – and it was just rich!

      So I guess that is what I was expecting this month – and I had no idea about Nouwen’s love (and knowledge) of art! And get this, he was even more inspired by your boy Vincent van Gogh – and so Jsh – you really should get some of his material – you will not be disappointed. 🙂
      thanks for dropping by ❤


  8. (EN) You are really “Y”,not”y” ….great;)…. I think the same…When there is a shadow, it means that behind there is light 🙂
    (IT) Sei davvero ” Y”,non” y” ….grande;)…. Penso lo stesso…Quando c’è un’ombra,vuol dire che dietro c’è luce 🙂


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