Despite the gray skies and blustery cold of a Michigan winter, my dad, Yuanhua Shen, decided to visit Grand Rapids in January 2015, traveling all the way from China. He came specifically to visit Calvin and to learn about Reformed theology. Dad wasn’t born into a Christian family; as a matter of fact, he was an atheist and a communist for more than 60 years. Then, he found Christ— or rather, Christ welcomed him home.
With his newfound faith, Dad was so excited to learn about theology. And Reformed theology made particular sense to him, especially the emphasis on God’s election and unrelenting grace. After we talked with theology professors at Calvin, I took him for a walk around the campus and we visited the art gallery. He was captivated by the paintings depicting the Prodigal Son and his loving father. It was a story that truly touched his heart—God, the loving father, waiting for a Prodigal Son (like Dad) to return home. He told me, “I want to do a calligraphy piece on the Prodigal Son.”
My dad wasn’t a formally trained calligrapher. In fact, his career as a physics professor and researcher may seem far- removed from any interest in art. But our family always knew Dad had artistic talents, as shown through his photography and his occasional craft projects. After his retirement, Dad devoted all his free time to Chinese calligraphy. He wrote poems and recorded them using different calligraphy styles.
As promised, after Dad returned from his vacation in the U.S., he produced this piece: a work of calligraphy highlighting not only the story of the Prodigal Son, but also his own life: “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. So they began to celebrate.” Luke 15:24
This story originally appeared in Returning Home: Further Journeys into the Art of Forgiveness. Shen hand delivered her father’s calligraphy from China to Calvin’s Center Art Gallery in 2016.
THE ART OF FORGIVENESS
This artwork and reflection are included in Returning Home: Further Journeys into the Art of Forgiveness. Larry Gerbens ’69 is the editor of the book, which includes art and writing inspired by the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Returning Home is a follow- up to a similar book, The Parable of the Father and the Two Sons.
Funded by a gift to Calvin Theological Seminary from the Edgar Boevé estate, Returning Home features several authors from the Calvin University community and artwork from the university and seminary, as well as from Gerbens’ and other private collections.
For Larry and his wife, Mary, this project is very personal. The couple have been collecting and speaking about art inspired by the Prodigal Son parable for many years. Larry traces his passion for art to a class he took from beloved art professor Edgar Boevé. “When speaking, I often share this quote from a Banner article by Nicholas Wolterstorff, ‘Art is the human spirit made visible. It is indispensable to our flourishing as God’s human creatures,’” Gerbens writes in Returning Home.
The book will be available in the Calvin University bookstore in early 2022.