Henri Nouwen’s ‘Lifesigns’: thoughts to ponder

Christian writer Henri Nouwen makes a compelling case for the need of nations to shift their priorities from merely concerns of national well-being to the betterment of all of humanity, “concerned with the survival of humanity and willing to make national sacrifices”. Regardless of your faith/lack thereof or political affiliations, his writings are well worthwhile to read, ponder and follow. The following is an excerpt from one of his writings:

“Ecstatic living entails a constant willingness to leave the safe, secure, familiar place and reach out to others, even when that involves risking one’s own security. On an international scale this means a foreign policy that goes far beyond the question, “How can our nation survive?” It would be a policy primarily concerned with the survival of humanity and willing to make national sacrifices. It would be a policy which realizes that idolizing the security of the nation endangers the whole of humanity. It would be a policy which places being human before being American, Russian, Cuban, Nicaraguan, or Mexican. In short, it would be a policy that seeks to liberate our common humanity.

Ecstasy always reaches out to new freedom. As long as national security is our primary concern and national survival more important than preserving life on this planet, we continue to live in the house of fear. Ultimately, we must chose between security – individual, social, or national – and freedom… The life of discipleship goes far beyond individual piety or communal loyalty. The whole world is called to be converted! Nations, not just individual people, are called to leave the house of fear – where suspicion, hatred and war rule – and enter the house of love, where reconciliation, healing and peace can reign.

The great spiritual leaders, from St. Benedict to St. Catherine of Siena to Martin Luther King, Jr., to Thomas Merton, have all grasped this truth: the power of the renewing Word of God cannot be kept within safe boundaries of the personal or interpersonal. They call for a new Jerusalem, a new earth, a new global movement.

The movement from the house of fear to the house of love has become necessary for the survival of humanity…

We must move of the place of death wishes and death threats and search, as nations, for ways of international reconciliation, cooperation, and care. We indeed need academies of peace, ministries of peace, and peacekeeping forces. We need educational reform, church reform, and even entertainment reform that makes peace its main concern. We need a new economic order beyond socialism and capitalism which makes justice for all its goal. But, most of all, we need to believe as nations that a new international order is possible and that rivalries between countries or blocs of countries are as outdated as the medieval rivalries between cities. This is what “global ecstasy” is all about. It is the movement from fear to love, from death to life, from stagnation to rebirth. from living as rivals to living as people belonging to one common humanity.

(from Lifesigns, p.109,112-113)

**Henry Nouwen’s book: Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective (Paperback) is available from Amazon by clicking here.

Customer review of Lifesigns:

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.


Read rest of this Amazon customer review here.


One Response to Henri Nouwen’s ‘Lifesigns’: thoughts to ponder

  1. ipad 3 pris says:

    ipad 3 pris…

    Henri Nouwen’s ‘Lifesigns’: thoughts to ponder | Verbena-19…


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: