Book Review: Can You Drink the Cup?

Book Review: Can You Drink the Cup

Author: Henri Nouwen

Publisher: Ave Maria Press ISBN: 9781594710995

I know I am not alone when I say that Henri Nouwen is one of my favorite spiritual writers. I have loved reading the depths of his meditations on Scripture passages from the Bible. His reflections on the return of the Prodigal Son were wonderfully insightful for me. Can You Drink the Cup is another masterpiece reflection that I will continue to glean from for a long time.

This book was one of the last published before Nouwen’s death in 1996. The setting of the book takes place largely in the community of L’Arche Daybreak. As Nouwen explores the deep meaning of the question Jesus asked to his disciples, James and John, “Can you drink the cup?” he parallels the significance of the cup against the backdrop of the mysteries of life as unfolded in a community of people who face severe and profound developmental disabilities. This backdrop helps us to understand and explore more deeply the challenge of Jesus’ question, “Can you drink the cup?” as it is asked to each one of us.

This is a quick read, but it is not easy… not easy in the sense of being able to digest it quickly. Nouwen presents the Cup to his readers in three acts: Act One = Holding the Cup and consists of three chapters each of which help the reader to embrace their own life and what is held in it; Act Two = Lifting the Cup and also consists of three chapters which explore “owning the cup” or owning our life and life’s mission. Finally, Act Three = Drinking the Cup and in this final act we learn to fulfill the responsibility of our life. This is the sum of what I have understood to this point of my reflection on “The Cup” -we embrace our cup, we own our cup, and we assume full responsibility for our cup.

Nouwen makes some very profound and insightful statements concerning this meditation and has helped me to see more comprehensively into the meaning of what Jesus intended when he presented the question “Can You Drink the Cup?” While the literal interpretation of Jesus’ metaphor was looking toward the cross and martyrdom, it is not the only interpretation… John, after all, did not die a martyr’s death. The cup is not only full of bitter sorrow, but it is also filled with eternal blessing. This is not an aspect of the cup I have often thought of or remembered and this is why I recommend this short and deep, little book for everyone. May you be as blessed as I have been by it.

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