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Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective

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"You cannot read Lifesigns and not be moved... This book will undoubtedly find its place among the classics of twentieth-century literature." --Grand Rapids Press The inspirational writings of Henri Nouwen have touched millions of readers all over the world. Much beloved as a lecturer, spiritual guide, and especially as an author, he communicated a profound message of hope "You cannot read Lifesigns and not be moved... This book will undoubtedly find its place among the classics of twentieth-century literature." --Grand Rapids Press The inspirational writings of Henri Nouwen have touched millions of readers all over the world. Much beloved as a lecturer, spiritual guide, and especially as an author, he communicated a profound message of hope that finds great resonance in today's world. In his now classic work Lifesigns, he explores what he saw as three of the most vital aspects of his ministry. The first of these is the Gospel invitation to intimacy, which Nouwen describes as communion with God and relationship with others. The second is the call to fecundity, exhorting us to be open to a fruitful life of change and growth. And the third, the experience of ecstasy, extends the Gospel promise "that your joy may be full." Inspired by L'Arche, the worldwide network of communities where handicapped people and their assistants try to live together in the spirit of the Scriptures, Nouwen shows how these three elements offer the essential key to a life free from the domination of fear and filled instead with hope and love.


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"You cannot read Lifesigns and not be moved... This book will undoubtedly find its place among the classics of twentieth-century literature." --Grand Rapids Press The inspirational writings of Henri Nouwen have touched millions of readers all over the world. Much beloved as a lecturer, spiritual guide, and especially as an author, he communicated a profound message of hope "You cannot read Lifesigns and not be moved... This book will undoubtedly find its place among the classics of twentieth-century literature." --Grand Rapids Press The inspirational writings of Henri Nouwen have touched millions of readers all over the world. Much beloved as a lecturer, spiritual guide, and especially as an author, he communicated a profound message of hope that finds great resonance in today's world. In his now classic work Lifesigns, he explores what he saw as three of the most vital aspects of his ministry. The first of these is the Gospel invitation to intimacy, which Nouwen describes as communion with God and relationship with others. The second is the call to fecundity, exhorting us to be open to a fruitful life of change and growth. And the third, the experience of ecstasy, extends the Gospel promise "that your joy may be full." Inspired by L'Arche, the worldwide network of communities where handicapped people and their assistants try to live together in the spirit of the Scriptures, Nouwen shows how these three elements offer the essential key to a life free from the domination of fear and filled instead with hope and love.

30 review for Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective

  1. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    I went shopping on my shelf, and I found this little gem, a gift from a friend. Apparently I have read it before because I had some notes in the margin, but I didn't remember it, and so I jumped right in. Now there are more notes. Henri Nouwen challenges those who seek Christ to reject fear, all the what-ifs that plague individuals, communities, and countries, and embrace Jesus' words in John 15: "Make your home in me, as I make my home in you." (intimacy) "Those who remain in me, with me in the I went shopping on my shelf, and I found this little gem, a gift from a friend. Apparently I have read it before because I had some notes in the margin, but I didn't remember it, and so I jumped right in. Now there are more notes. Henri Nouwen challenges those who seek Christ to reject fear, all the what-ifs that plague individuals, communities, and countries, and embrace Jesus' words in John 15: "Make your home in me, as I make my home in you." (intimacy) "Those who remain in me, with me in them, will bear fruit in plenty." (fedundity--I had to look it up) "I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy may be complete." (ecstasy) Nouwen's analysis of this is graceful, acknowledging the difficulties of this world, but describing and shaping what a life in Christ is truly like. Not perfect, of course, but with meaning and love. Perfect love casts out fear. This is the third book my Nouwen that I have read, and I have loved them all. I think I will see out more.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Madison

    What a wonderful, convicting book. Nouwen goes through the concept of how so many Christians live more through death than through the life Christ has offered us. This book was particularly convicting for me, as Nouwen discusses how we live our lives through fear, and how fear destroys our ability to love other people well, our ability to grow spiritually and produce spiritual fruits, and our ability to have joy and ecstasy through Christ even in the face of pain and suffering. The only reason thi What a wonderful, convicting book. Nouwen goes through the concept of how so many Christians live more through death than through the life Christ has offered us. This book was particularly convicting for me, as Nouwen discusses how we live our lives through fear, and how fear destroys our ability to love other people well, our ability to grow spiritually and produce spiritual fruits, and our ability to have joy and ecstasy through Christ even in the face of pain and suffering. The only reason this book lost a star for me is because of some whack theology. Despite Nouwen's beautiful spiritual truths, he takes much of it too far to the point of essentially supporting pacifism. The unfortunate thing about this book is that Nouwen seems to believe that if we are effectively sharing the love of Christ, then there will be a complete removal of war and social justice issues. This completely ignores the fact of human depravity, and the fact that not all will be saved. This particular aspect of the book is unrealistic (which he himself admits that many people will perceive it as such), and in my opinion unbiblical. However, this part of the book is short and does not negate the importance of the other spiritual truths that he shares. Overall I think this short book is helpful for all Christians as we seek to truly live through Christ.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Seongkyul

    I read this book as part of my start-of-the-year fasting & prayer meditations in a cabin out in the woods of a quaker retreat center. A very simple book, that dives into the basics of a deeply introspective life in Christ that radiates outward. Written during his days at l'Arche - 'an ark' for people living with disabilities - this book reads like an invitation into his personal meditations on how God's divine love uproots fear, which permeates and drives so much of our lives/society (as prevale I read this book as part of my start-of-the-year fasting & prayer meditations in a cabin out in the woods of a quaker retreat center. A very simple book, that dives into the basics of a deeply introspective life in Christ that radiates outward. Written during his days at l'Arche - 'an ark' for people living with disabilities - this book reads like an invitation into his personal meditations on how God's divine love uproots fear, which permeates and drives so much of our lives/society (as prevalent this year as ever); draws us near in solidarity with the poor in Spirit; and causes us to bear fruit and joy in ways that counter our productivity/anxiety addicted culture. I so needed this, at the start of another chaotic year of noise and national urgencies. Just read it! It so elegantly captured both the peace and the drive I've wrestled for (tried to make sense of) in pursuing a life of faith&impact -- while providing a mirror into the surgical as well as the more gentle healing ways in which God's worked in my spiritual walk abroad.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey Forkner

    "Everything we read in the papers, hear on the radio, and see on television about the condition of the world seems to confirm the saying: 'homo homini lupus,' human beings are wolves to each other." "They often experience themselves as useless appendices to a complex machine, the inner workings of which they do not understand. This is not only true for unemployed youth and retired elderly, but also for many who are quite busy in the factories and offices of our contemporary society. Being bored "Everything we read in the papers, hear on the radio, and see on television about the condition of the world seems to confirm the saying: 'homo homini lupus,' human beings are wolves to each other." "They often experience themselves as useless appendices to a complex machine, the inner workings of which they do not understand. This is not only true for unemployed youth and retired elderly, but also for many who are quite busy in the factories and offices of our contemporary society. Being bored while being busy is an ominous symptom of this spiritual illness." "The word 'school,' which comes from 'schola' (meaning: free time), reminds us that schools were originally meant to interrupt a busy existence and create some space to contemplate the mysteries of life." "Gratitude presupposes a willingness to recognize our dependence on others and to receive their help and support."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jonah G

    Do we live in the house of fear or the house of love? This book shows us how many people live in the house of fear yet believe they aren't fearful. While I believe that the title might be a little long, Nouwen describes how to love while living in a dangerous world. Considering that he wrote and published this near the end of the Cold War, Nouwen had been able to see how much fear there was in the world, not to mention the fact that France (like the rest of Europe) seemed to be in the middle of Do we live in the house of fear or the house of love? This book shows us how many people live in the house of fear yet believe they aren't fearful. While I believe that the title might be a little long, Nouwen describes how to love while living in a dangerous world. Considering that he wrote and published this near the end of the Cold War, Nouwen had been able to see how much fear there was in the world, not to mention the fact that France (like the rest of Europe) seemed to be in the middle of a power struggle between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. yet couldn't do anything about it. A wonderful read for anyone and everyone.

  6. 5 out of 5

    John

    Psychologist--Priest, Henri Nouwen is the author of 40 books on the spiritual life read widely by Catholics and Protestants. His book The Wounded Healer is required reading for psychotherapists. He taught at the Menninger Foundation, Yale, Harvard and in his last years shared his life with the developmentally disabled at the L'Arche Daybreak community (referring to Noah's ark) in Toronto, founded by Jean Vanier. Here he found in the small society of the handicapped a paradigm for a society gover Psychologist--Priest, Henri Nouwen is the author of 40 books on the spiritual life read widely by Catholics and Protestants. His book The Wounded Healer is required reading for psychotherapists. He taught at the Menninger Foundation, Yale, Harvard and in his last years shared his life with the developmentally disabled at the L'Arche Daybreak community (referring to Noah's ark) in Toronto, founded by Jean Vanier. Here he found in the small society of the handicapped a paradigm for a society governed by fear. Vanier said to Henri Nouwen at a retreat, "Working with mentally handicapped people, I have come to recognize that all human beings, whatever their condition, are called to intimacy, fecundity, and ecstacy." Jesus refers to this holy triad in John 15 4-17: "Remain in me, and I will remain in you." (15:4) This certainly is an invitation to intimacy. "If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (15:5). This is a call to fecundity. "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." (15:11). Here we have ecstasy. In this book Nouwen shows how the relationship of these three Christian elements are essential to a life of love and hope. Intimacy is a divine gift allowing us to transcend fearful distance as well as fearful closeness, and to experience a love before and beyond all human acceptance or rejection. The opposite side of the coin of intimacy is solidarity. We cannot claim intimacy with God if we ignore our fellow human beings. It becomes our task to strive toward harmony among all people thereby our "intimacy manifests itself as solidarity and solidarity as intimacy." (Nouwen, p. 45). Ecstasy comes from the Greek work "ekstasis" where "ek" means out of and "stasis" means to stand still. Nouwen observes, "To be ecstatic literally means to be outside of a static place. Thus, those who live ecstatic lives are always moving away from rigidly fixed situations and exploring new, unmapped dimensions of reality. Joy is always new." (P.,,,,) We can have old pain, old grief, old sadness, but we cannot have old joy. Joy is not being happy with some passing pleasure, but an inner bubbling up which permeates the entire body. The rarely used word, Fecundity, means fruitful but it is not to be confused with productivity. Students complain of too much homework, deadlines for papers, and preparation for tests. Interestingly, the word "school" comes from "schola" meaning free time. Schools were originally meant to interrupt a busy schedule and make time to contemplate the mysteries of life. Being fruitful I have to give up my defensive life and become vulnerable. When I realize that you and I share some weaknesses and can confess that with each other, then I am vulnerable. This levels the playing field. we have emphasized productivity to the point where competition rules, television advertisements must be adhered to (or you are not going to be good enough), making your quota, earning more money, buying more things and even in our most intimate and vulnerable moments we need to deliver Nouwen writes much in this book about fear and how it governs our lives. Fear gives our power to act away to another person, a mob or a demagogic government. We echo the refrain "What if. . .?" Fear is a weapon we turn on ourselves. Fear reproduces itself, and like a muscle, gets stronger with use and its prodigy are anger, despair, depression, cruelty, isolation, destruction, and war. When St. John writes "Perfect love casts out all fear," he is talking of God's love. This love, this knowing, grows a feeling of belonging, a feeling of home. "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." (Psalm 23) If we can be disciplined in our spiritual life, we can come closer and closer to home. This involves intimacy with self (through solitude), knowing our Self, our shadows and listening to God. It is here, at home in God, that we can unmask and see through the illusions created by our fears. And finding this home reauires prayer: "Those who have made the prayer of the heart a daily practice come to experience it as a simple, yet beautiful way to their true home. It gradually leads us away from the house of fear and moves us closer to the house of love, God's house." (p..40) Let me end with the word on one who knew fear and how through her life and work kept it at bay through her love and devotion to God. Ester "Etty" Hillesum was, like Nouwen, born in Holland. Before she and her family were murdered at Auschwitz, she kept a diary that was published posthumously. In it she wrote this prayer: "Dear God, these are anxious times. Tonight for the first time I lay in the dark with burning eyes as scene after scene of human suffering passed before me. I shall promise You one thing, God, just one very small thing: I shall never burden my today with cares about my tomorrow. . ... I shall try to help You, God, to stop my strength from ebbing away . . . All that really matters is that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. .. . l. defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last. ... And there are those who want to put their bodies in safe keeping but who are nothing more now that a shelter for a thousand fears and bitter feelings. And they say, "I shan't let them get me into their clutches." But they forget that no one is in their clutches who is in Your arms." An Interrupted Life, New York: Pantheon, 1984, pp. 151-52).

  7. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    Very relevant to our times even as an older publication. The author looks at life driven by fear versus life lived in love. Looking at three characteristics of a person's life - intimacy (a sense of belonging), fecundity (fruitfulness), ecstasy (complete joy) - Nouwen discusses how fear blocks and love builds these characteristics in our personal lives and in community life. This book lends itself well to small group discussion. Very relevant to our times even as an older publication. The author looks at life driven by fear versus life lived in love. Looking at three characteristics of a person's life - intimacy (a sense of belonging), fecundity (fruitfulness), ecstasy (complete joy) - Nouwen discusses how fear blocks and love builds these characteristics in our personal lives and in community life. This book lends itself well to small group discussion.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Madison Boboltz

    Read this for a book club and it was so refreshing! The only thing we noticed was that his comments about people with disabilities don’t really translate well today, but they were probably a step in the right direction considering the context in which he was writing. Overall though, this book was just what my spirit needed! It is all about overcoming fear while still in the midst of fear by realizing you are home in God’s love.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jason Kanz

    Written 32 years ago, this excellent book remains quite timely in our divided culture that seems so driven by fear. As I look at the political and social culture of the world in which we live, we need to be reminded that Christ is present with us in our fear and tells us to not be afraid. The messages countercultural, but then again so was Jesus.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    This just happened to be in the library of the place I was staying in Lindisfarne, England. I decided to read it because it intrigued me. It was a good read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Bedard

    This is typical Henri Nouwen which means it was a thoughtful theological reflection. People live in fear even though they don't have to. Nouwen points us in a better direction. This is typical Henri Nouwen which means it was a thoughtful theological reflection. People live in fear even though they don't have to. Nouwen points us in a better direction.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Not sure how I hadn't read this gem before, but perfect timing. Not sure how I hadn't read this gem before, but perfect timing.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Brett Leyde

    Fantastic vision for the Christian life moving from fear to love. 10/10

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jake Moertl

    Nouwen for the win, again.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joe Hancock

    Life altering. Top 10 of all time read books. Perfect timing in 2020 and to being the new year!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Grant Carter

    Very meh. Don’t have anything to really say about this one.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joe Iovino

    Do I live my life in the house of fear or the house of love? Nouwen offers great insight into the effects of fear in our lives, how we settle for the fear responses of closeness/distance rather than intimacy, productivity/sterility rather than fruitfulness, and routine/hedonism rather than joy. I was deeply grateful for his application of these concepts on a macro level, addressing world issues. While the specific issues are dated, the concepts are not. As one would expect with Nouwen, this is a Do I live my life in the house of fear or the house of love? Nouwen offers great insight into the effects of fear in our lives, how we settle for the fear responses of closeness/distance rather than intimacy, productivity/sterility rather than fruitfulness, and routine/hedonism rather than joy. I was deeply grateful for his application of these concepts on a macro level, addressing world issues. While the specific issues are dated, the concepts are not. As one would expect with Nouwen, this is a powerful, insightful book that leads the reader in examination of his or her own life in a very accessible way. (Well worth the 75 cents I paid at Goodwill!) :)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Phil

    This book is representative of late Henri Nouwen, after he began to live in the L'Arche community in Toronto. As a result, the influence of Jean Vanier is noticeable throughout as well as the familiar themes dealing with fear and intimacy which characterize much of Nouwen's writing. The stress on intimacy with God and others, the call to fecundity to encourage us to growth and ecstacy to bring us joy is central throughout and offers a hopeful message. The gentleness of the L'Arche experience is This book is representative of late Henri Nouwen, after he began to live in the L'Arche community in Toronto. As a result, the influence of Jean Vanier is noticeable throughout as well as the familiar themes dealing with fear and intimacy which characterize much of Nouwen's writing. The stress on intimacy with God and others, the call to fecundity to encourage us to growth and ecstacy to bring us joy is central throughout and offers a hopeful message. The gentleness of the L'Arche experience is also central here and we can certainly see the changes this experience has on Nouwen in this book. I'm grateful for the hopefulness of this book and for its delving deeper into the heart.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    As part of Advent, I read (or in some cases re-read) a Henri Nouwen book a week in preparation for Christmas. The first book I read was Lifesigns, which was a wonderful book that focused on three graces that we may receive from our lives, if pursued in a Christian manner: intimacy, fecundity (or fruitfulness), and ecstasy. The word choices are purposeful, for the emotions and thoughts that they evoke. In addition, throughout each grace is a playfulness in the ways each can contribute to our live As part of Advent, I read (or in some cases re-read) a Henri Nouwen book a week in preparation for Christmas. The first book I read was Lifesigns, which was a wonderful book that focused on three graces that we may receive from our lives, if pursued in a Christian manner: intimacy, fecundity (or fruitfulness), and ecstasy. The word choices are purposeful, for the emotions and thoughts that they evoke. In addition, throughout each grace is a playfulness in the ways each can contribute to our lives as Christians and its purpose in fulfilling Christ’s love in our lives.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    Beautiful, touching, and moving. I really value Henri's loving insight and perspective in this book. It's a very smooth and graceful read for having such depth and wisdom to it. Beautiful, touching, and moving. I really value Henri's loving insight and perspective in this book. It's a very smooth and graceful read for having such depth and wisdom to it.

  21. 5 out of 5

    RF

    I LOVED THIS BOOK. It's a new Nouwen favorite. Lovely. I LOVED THIS BOOK. It's a new Nouwen favorite. Lovely.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Melinda

    early Henri Nouwen written after first being introduced to the L'Arc Community in France. It's about how people live in fear and the antidote to fear. fruit of the spirit. early Henri Nouwen written after first being introduced to the L'Arc Community in France. It's about how people live in fear and the antidote to fear. fruit of the spirit.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lorraine

    Love Henri Nouwen.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Becks

    It appears I have many spiritual books on this list, hmmm. This is one of the best Nouwen books I've read, which says a lot, since all of his books have rocked my world. It appears I have many spiritual books on this list, hmmm. This is one of the best Nouwen books I've read, which says a lot, since all of his books have rocked my world.

  25. 4 out of 5

    John

    I first read this book in 1999 and it is just as refreshing and challenging today as it was then.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    Very helpful book, though from not quite the direction I was expecting (which I have come to love in Nouwen's writing - simple and indirectly direct). Very helpful book, though from not quite the direction I was expecting (which I have come to love in Nouwen's writing - simple and indirectly direct).

  27. 5 out of 5

    mz

    Lovely and touching as always with Nouwen.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Scott

  29. 4 out of 5

    Betty Stegemoller

  30. 5 out of 5

    Scott Lee

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