“…the money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.
“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. ’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
I have very personal response to this story, having myself been a prodigal. It was this story that brought me back to a life of faith. It has been a challenge to try to find a new aspect to consider as it is one of my favorite stories Jesus told.
I spent an afternoon collecting flotsum from the river’s flood, little pieces of… driftwood, plastic, weathered styrofoam made round by the waves and … small bits of corn cobs. This made me think of the prodigal, who after finding his friends were only using him, began to starve for lack of money to buy food. He was yearning to eat even the pods he was feeding the pigs.
Another day, I collected material fit for the trash can or to be composted. I found coffee grounds in a used filter, the shells of iris bulbs hollowed out by winter, wilted ornamental kale and a used tea bag. That hungry son must have seriously and closly examined that pig slop. I used this time of painting to consider closely what is really just garbage.
With what am I trying to nourish myself?
I often think of the scene in Walt Wangerin’s Book of the Dun Cow, where the flock of chicken’s are starving because of a famine. One thin hen stumbled onto a valley full of empty cicada shells. She begins to eat them, filling her empty stomach but getting no nourishment from the dried shells. She keeps this valley a secret from the others and sneaks off each day to gorge herself, all the while becoming thinner and thinner.
“Why would I even consider eating pig food when in my Father’s house even the servant eats well?” What do I do to try to fill up my emptiness? There is a feast spread at a table prepared for me. The fatted calf awaits.