Sunday, June 15, 2008

The hands of the father

The true center of Rembrandt's painting is the hands of the father. On them all the light is concentrated; on them the eyes of the bystanders are focused; in them mercy becomes flesh; upon them forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing come together, and, through them, not only the tired son, but also the worn-out father find their rest. From the moment I first saw the poster on Simone's office door, I felt drawn to those hands. I did not fully understand why. But gradually over the years I have come to know those hands. They have held me from the hour of my conception, they welcomed me at my birth, held me close to my mother's breast, fed me, and kept me warm. They have protected me in times of danger and consoled me in times of grief. They have waved me good-bye and always welcomed me back. Those hands are God's hands. They are also the hands of my parents, teachers, friends, healers, and all those whom God has given me to remind me how safely I am held.

Not long after Rembrandt painted the father and his blessing hands, he died. Rembrandt's hands had painted countless human faces and human hands. In this, one of his last paintings, he painted the face and the hands of God.

Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son


jessica said...

i believe it was during an english class my junior year of college when we discussed this painting. some people have pointed out the feminine and masculine qualities of the hands (they say that the right hand appears more feminine than the left). have you heard anything about that?

Stephen Ley said...


Yes, I've heard that, and Nouwen writes about it in the book. If you look closely the hands are very different.