Illusions are attractive. They draw us in with their mystery and irrationality. Our eyes feel deceived and intrigued at the same time. They eat up our time and give us some semblance of purpose - we must unravel them.
In our cell group we have jumped into an amazing little book by a guy called Henri Nouwen. (I won’t give the title just now.) Nouwen was drawn in by a painting by Rembrandt in St Petersburg. It beguiled him. It spoke to his soul. This was no illusion. This was reality. This was truth.
Nouwen then explored Rembrandt's life, art and persona. And he came upon this amazing little work entitled ‘Simeon and the Child Jesus’. It is a perspective on a man called Simeon who was holding Jesus as a baby. It is a piece of genius by Rembrandt. He shows someone who has physical sight diminishing, yet spiritual sight intensifying. He is coming to the end of his life, yet so full of life. Rembrandt saw himself in Simeon.
His health was deteriorating. His sight was failing. Yet his spiritual sight was awakening. He was starting to see things a little more clearly. He had spent much of his life chasing the illusions of fame, notoriety and independence. But coming to the end, he began to see reality.
It was, in the words of one of my Year 9 students, 'a chance to see life'. In our classroom this week we had been discussing whether it was essential to suffer before you understood life. We didn't come to any final solutions to that one. But what we agreed this - suffering can open our eyes to what really is and shake us out of our ambivalence.
Now Rembrandt saw the truth at the end of his life. And sometimes we can catch glimpses of this as we walk through some suffering. As Jesus said to his people, 'Blessed are those who see what you see.' I don’t want to wait until I get to the end of my life to truly see. I want to have my eyes opened now to reality not illusions. I want to see truth not idolatry. I want to see what it’s all about. I want to fix my eyes on Jesus.
The title of the book? 'The Return of the Prodigal Son' - see if you can find it.