Nouwen has said that his writing comes "out of an awareness that my deepest vocation is to be a witness to the glimpses of God I have been allowed to catch." His theological insights are deeply grounded in personal experience. By looking honestly at how God works in his life, he helps us to see how God works in our lives.
Life of the Beloved (Crossroad), for example, is a personal letter to a friend. Nouwen remembers his friend saying, "I don't live much of a spiritual life. I'm a busy person and I would like to see how I could live a spiritual life in a very secular world." In the book, Nouwen writes about a favorite theme: God's initial, primary, and unconditional love for us and our response to God's love.
In The Return of the Prodigal Son (Doubleday), Nouwen reflects on Rembrandt's famous painting of the same name. Nouwen once happened to glimpse a poster reprint of this painting and it so gripped his imagination that he could not forget it.
Eventually he went to the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg and spent a few days with the painting. He delicately interweaves reflections on his own life, Jesus' parable, the painting, and Rembrandt's life as a way of coming to a deeper understanding of the gospel. The book is vintage Nouwen: wonderfully lyrical and gently compelling. This is his own favorite among his many books and possibly his best ever.1