An Unlikely Story of Finding Freedom
By Henri Nouwen, Carolyn Whitney-Brown
During the last five years of his life, spiritual leader and teacher Henri Nouwen became close to a travelling circus trapeze troupe, The Flying Rodleighs. The lessons he discovered through his relationship with the troupe stimulated Nouwen to write in a genre new to him, creative non-fiction, and these writings are presented for the first time in Flying, Falling, Catching.
With care and insight, Nouwen’s colleague and friend Carolyn Whitney-Brown weaves Henri’s material into a dramatic narrative that imagines his life flashing before him during his first heart attack. We learn how Nouwen saw his own experiences reflected in the artistry, exhilarating successes, crushing failures and continual forgiveness that were integral to the act of The Flying Rodleighs.
A fascinating blend of autobiography and spiritual writing, Flying, Falling Catching offers an extraordinary new angle on a man who has inspired thousands. Through his own writings and Whitney-Brown’s narrative, we see him as a spiritual adventurer, someone who was transformed by diversity as he learned to view the world through many perspectives.
Nouwen’s story – including his participation in the Civil Rights movement, the friendships he made during the 1990s AIDS pandemic, and many other unexpected encounters – encourages us to embrace our vulnerabilities, and vividly reminds us that one of the greatest challenges we face is to avoid despair by reflecting on the meaning and significance of the lives we have lived, and are living.
Part inspirational Christian autobiography, part thought-provoking narrative, Flying, Falling Catching will surprise and delight long-term fans of Nouwen’s ministry and new readers keen to learn more about him. In offering a deeper understanding of an extraordinary yet very human spirit, it provides us with the motivation to search out our own spiritual adventure; like Nouwen, we too can learn to let go and fly – and not be afraid to fall.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Henri J. M. Nouwen (1932–1996), one of the most beloved Christian spiritual writers of the last 50 years, was the author of With Open Hands, Reaching Out, The Wounded Healer, Making All Things New, Spiritual Direction, and many other bestsellers. He taught at Harvard, Yale, and Notre Dame universities before becoming the senior pastor of L’Arche Daybreak in Toronto, Canada, a community where men and women with intellectual disabilities and their assistants create a home for one another.
Carolyn Whitney-Brown is a Canadian writer, speaker, illustrator and university teacher. She knew Henri Nouwen well when she and her family lived in the L’Arche Daybreak community from 1990 until Henri’s death in 1996. She lives on Vancouver Island.
I am very grateful for Carolyn Whitney-Brown’s accurate account of my brother Henri’s inner feelings, hopes, wishes and despair. You brought Henri very close to me again. – Laurent Nouwen, Founder of the Henri Nouwen Foundation on FLYING, FALLING, CATCHING
In this book, I see Henri in the audience, smiling straight at me, clapping his hands above his head, enjoying our performance success as much as we did. This one is for you, my friend. – Rodleigh Stevens, Founder of the Flying Rodleighs and former trainer with Cirque du Soleil on FLYING, FALLING, CATCHING
Anyone who knew Henri, either through his writing or in person, will immediately recognise how beautifully he’s been brought to life in this book.’ – his willingness to write so vulnerably about human relationships and feelings as a means to discovering our purpose in life, and a sense of the divine. – Gary Donohoe, Professor & Chair of Psychology, National University of Ireland on FLYING, FALLING, CATCHING
Flying, Falling, Catching is far beyond religious belief or affiliation. It is a universal tale of mind-body connection and disconnection. While undoubtedly an account of a spiritual journey, Carolyn Whitney-Brown nimbly explores the corporeal inner life of Henri Nouwen as he literally swings through the air. It is brilliant! – Ruth Rakoff, Author of When My World Was Very Small on FLYING, FALLING, CATCHING
No question that flying, falling, and catching were unlikely teachers for Henri Nouwen, whose clear preferences were security, stability and being caught! I hope and trust that you, the reader, will allow Henri to guide your journey through risk to freedom! – Sr. Sue Mosteller, CSJ, Executrix of Henri Nouwen’s literary estate on FLYING, FALLING, CATCHING
Flying, Falling, Catching is a beacon of hope. It reminds us that despite all the perils and sufferings that surround us, with which we often collide, we can find healing, peace, and awe even in the most unusual detours that life offers. A must read. – Marina Nemat, Author of international best-seller Prisoner of Tehran on FLYING, FALLING, CATCHING
A loving achievement and a riveting story of spirit meets body. With splendid pace and wit, Carolyn Whitney-Brown drops the words of Henri Nouwen’s flights of thought before us. Then, she arranges to gorgeously catch them. A singular spiritual tale written with tender-hearted eloquence from two arresting minds. – Kathryn Bond Stockton, Author of Gender(s), Distinguished Professor of English, University of Utah on FLYING, FALLING, CATCHING
A lifelong search for wholeness takes a surprising late turn—toward the circus! As someone who’s spent much of my adult life absorbing beautiful spiritual truths in gritty entertainment venues, I can definitely relate. – Shad, Rapper, Host of documentary series Hip-Hop Evolution on FLYING, FALLING, CATCHING
For Henri Nouwen, a flying trapeze performance was like a Russian icon, drawing him into a spiritual world. This endearing true story about living and dying carefully brings together all of Nouwen’s thinking on the Flying Rodleighs and the circus. Like the act itself, sheer elegance. – Michael Ford, Author of Wounded Prophet and Lonely Mystic on FLYING, FALLING, CATCHING
In Carolyn Whitney-Brown’s deft hands, Henri’s intentions literally, vividly swing alive. This is a beautiful, moving story about interconnectivity, interdependence, and life’s rich, beautiful, complicated pageant. I devoured it in a sitting. – Lisa Napoli, Author of Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie on FLYING, FALLING, CATCHING