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New Harmony: I have seen the prodigal — and he is us

Published: Thursday, July 18 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Last Sunday night I spoke to a group of young people. And I took as my text — as Protestant pastors are wont to say — the parable of the prodigal son.

Being a prodigal myself, I feel a kinship with that story. And over the years, as a kind of hobby, I’ve collected pictures and paintings of the parable.

There’s a poster I picked in Bolivia written in Quechua. There’s one of an African father in tribal robes greeting his royal son. A Puerto Rican print I have depicts the wayward boy “slopping hogs” by taking a job emptying the garbage cans at a McDonald’s and includes the angry older brother showing his displeasure by snapping the neck of the guitar he’s playing.

Like Christmas crèches, the prodigal son shows up as a member of all races, kindreds, tongues and people.

It’s a universal tale.

First, there is a need to leave, then there's being worn down by the world, and finally, we get the joyful homecoming.

And I’ve learned you can come home a hundred different ways.

You can return home physically, to the place where you were raised.

You can “come back home” philosophically, religiously, emotionally, metaphorically, culturally, historically and even technologically.

When a kid goes off to school, then heads back home; when a father goes to work and returns or a mother goes to the store, they are creating harmonies with the parable of the prodigal.

You can find the tale hidden in Buddhist ideas of Nirvana, in the tradition of Catholic pilgrimages and even in the LDS Plan of Salvation.

This thought's not fresh with me, but at some point, we will all play the prodigal son.

We may stray just a few steps, for just few minutes. Or we may meld with other universes and be gone for decades — even a lifetime.

But we all know the feeling of leaving, feeling at sea and heading home.

I live out the parable myself on several levels.

I live in the town where I grew up, I’ve returned to the church of my youth and I’ve embraced the family I once thought I had out-grown.

The key, of course, is to be a bit wiser and warmer when we return.

Unless we come back with a new vision of things, we’re just taking one more turn on a carousel.

And like all prodigals — or, I should say, all people — I’m working hard to make sure each of my little trips back to where I began are always a journey toward joy, not just another joy ride.

Email: jerjohn@desnews.com

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