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Masculine and Feminine God
Excerpt from Henri Nouwen's  
The Return of the Prodigal Son 

"Often I have asked friends to give me their first impression of Rembrandt's Prodigal Son.  Inevitably, they point to the wise old man who forgives his son: the benevolent patriarch. 

"The longer I look at 'the patriarch', the clearer it becomes to me that Rembrandt has done something quite different from letting God pose as the wise old head of a family.  It all began with the hands.  The two are quite different.  The father's left hand touching the son's shoulder is strong and muscular.  The fingers are spread out and cover a large part of the prodigal son's shoulder and back.  I can see a certain pressure, especially in the thumb.  That hand seems not only to touch, but, with its strength, also to hold.  Even though there is a gentleness in the way the father's left hand touches his son, it is not without a firm grip. 

"How different is the father's right hand!  This hand does not hold or grasp.  It is refined, soft, and very tender.  The fingers are close to each other and they have an elegant quality.  It lies gently upon the son's shoulder.  It wants to caress, to stroke, and to offer consolation and comfort.  It is a mother's hand.... 

"As soon as I recognized the difference between the two hands of the father, a new world of meaning opened up for me.  The Father is not simply a great patriarch.  He is mother as well as father.  He touches the son with a masculine hand and a feminine hand.  He holds, and she caresses.  He confirms and she consoles.  He is , indeed, God, in whom both manhood and womanhood, fatherhood and motherhood, are fully present.  That gentle and caressing right hand echoes for me the words of the prophet Isaiah: "Can a woman forget her baby at the breast, feel no pity for the chile she has borne?  Even if these were to forget, I shall not forget you.  Look, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands." 

From: Walter Clark 
Date: Thu, 09 Jan 1997
To: Sojourners List
Subject: Inclusive language/Inclusiveness 

Herewith my contribution, FWIW, to the inclusive language discussion.... a little late since I've been on and off the Net lately. 

The above [at left] is excerpted from the late, alas, Henri Nouwen's short book The Return of the Prodigal Son based on his contemplation of Rembrandt's great painting of the same name which hangs in The Hermitage in St. Petersburg.  Gentleness, strength, firmness, kindness, balance, and awareness of the other are some of the themes of this book.  Sounds like Jesus' approach to me, and it's very helpful, I think, in the often heated and needed debate about inclusiveness in every aspect of life and relationships.  Perhaps it all does begin with the hands. 

The painting may be viewed on the Web at the Web Museum site.

Shalom to you all!.... from one who learned early in life, at the hands of his family, that God is both masculine and feminine, and that this knowledge, and how intelligently we use it, matters greatly in how we relate to each other. 

Walter Clark 

"Text without context is pretext." 

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