I wonder how often I am more like the three-second viewer than a captivated Nouwen, moving through every sight of the day with my eyes barely open. How often might I be surrounded by the presence of God, but unaware and unseeing—missing, in my absence, the bigger picture? One of my favorite poems begins with the lines, "Lord, not you, it is I who am absent."(1)
The parable tells us that the wayward child had a plan for returning to his father's house: he would confess his sin against heaven and against his father, and then he would ask to be treated as one of the hired servants. He would work his way back into his father's life. But the father doesn't even give him a chance to fully present the offer. Upon seeing his son, he says to his slaves, "'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.'"(2) With every symbol of restoration, the father who was waiting embraces the son who was lost.
In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus bids us to slow down and be present, to taste and see, to be still and know: the Father is near. God is here, though we are absent. The Father waits, though we put off Him off. God grieves over our wandering hearts and minds, moving in grace to embrace those who long to see. God is a God who runs to greet his wavering child, and it is a sight to behold always."
(1) Denise Levertov, "Flickering Mind," The Stream and the Sapphire (New York: New Directions, 1997), 15.
(2) Luke 15:22-25.