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Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective Paperback – January 23, 1989

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Editorial Reviews


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

From the Publisher

Best-selling author Henri Nouwen shows how three of the most vital elements of human life offer Christians the essential key to a life filled with hope and love.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Image; Reprint edition (February 23, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038523628X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385236287
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.4 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Henri Nouwen was born in Holland in 1932 and ordained a Catholic priest in 1957. He obtained his doctorandus in psychology from Nijmegen University in The Netherlands and taught at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard. He experienced the monastic life with Trappist monks at the Abbey of the Genesee, lived among the poor in Latin America with the Maryknoll missioners, and was interested and active in numerous causes related to social justice. After a lifetime of seeking, Henri Nouwen finally found his home in Canada, as pastor of L'Arche Daybreak - where people with intellectual disabilities and their caregivers live together in community.

Henri Nouwen wrote over 40 books on spirituality and the spiritual life that have sold millions of copies and been translated into dozens of languages. His vision of spirituality was broad and inclusive, and his compassion embraced all of humankind.

He died in 1996. His work and his spirit live on.

Henri Nouwen pronounced his name "Henry Now-en." For more information on his life and work, please visit .

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
Henri Nouwen has never written a bad book. If you're a fan of Fr. Nouwen, you'll again be touched by this simple, practical and penetrating book.
I especially liked the chapter on fecundity, a word not much used these days. He focuses on the difference between being fecund or "fruitful" vs. productive. In our post modern culture, we have the daily, desperate experience of living without bearing fruit. We are busy producing but little is life giving or fruitful. He has some good thoughts and practical solutions. He is so very warm and enjoyable to read.
I'm looking forward to reading this book again.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By James Moore on March 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I go back to this book from time to time. I believe that I first saw the citation for it in Sandra Wilson's book "Into Abba's Arms". I read it first as I was separated from my wife. It was a painful time. Jesus used to the book to lift my spirits, and change my outlook. The book also showed me some reasons why intimacy was hard to achieve (because I wasn't trusting in God's love), and why I would get trapped in striving (to please, to be noticed, to get attaboys) because I wasn't really fruitful (because I wasn't trusting in the Father's love), and why I thought that as a good Christian that enjoying God's blessings in a hooting and hollering way was, well just not proper (because I didn't know how much an Abba delights to see the grin on his son's and daughter's faces). A part of the real good news of Jesus Christ is both the abundant life (more to be intimate with, more fruitfulness, more ecstacy, and sometimes more suffering -- but in love) and the fact that God's love when it runs its course, drives out the fear. Though not addressed much in the book, I also covered fear with anger which made me feel powerful, but sometimes hurt others. Far better to let God's love replace the fear. I almost didn't buy the book because I didn't know what fecundity meant, and I feared the book would not be understandable. I found it very approachable, and easy to understand. I am glad the Lord kept after me to buy the book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Chad Oberholtzer on July 21, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have taken a seminary course about the life and writings of Henri Nouwen, and I'll be forthright in acknowledging that I'm a huge fan of Henri Nouwen, the man, and rather unenthusiastic about Henri Nouwen, the author. I found his "Reaching Out" and "The Wounded Healer" to be laborious and unhelpful to read. So, if you're a full-fledged Nouwen disciple, this review will probably seem absurd to you.

However, despite my general disappointment with Nouwen's writing, I will concede that reading "Lifesigns" was much more helpful than his other books. The book is framed around the assumption that humans are basically driven by fear. Using John 15 as the starting point for his conclusions, Nouwen suggests that intimacy (love), fecundity (fruitfulness), and ecstasy (joy) are the solutions that God offers us for our fear-filled lives.

Though some of the book did not connect with me, due to the nature of Nouwen's writing style and his starting assumptions that don't really apply to me, there were two major points that resonated well with me. First, I especially appreciated the way that he described the difference between productivity and fruitfulness in the section about fecundity. Though this general idea was not brand-new, he painted a compelling vision for why our purpose in life is not simple productivity (despite American cultural expectations) but rather a fruitfulness that is much fuller and more meaningful. The distinction between the two may seem somewhat illusive, but Nouwen explains it well.

The other high point of the book for me was Nouwen's rather dramatic critique of the American foreign policy which orients around the premise that security and maintaining power are the most important functions of the government.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dr. John Laughlin on February 13, 2007
Format: Paperback
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).
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