Henri Nouwen’s never-before-published story of his surprising friendship with a traveling trapeze troupe.
During the last five years of his life, best-selling spiritual author Henri J. M. Nouwen became close to The Flying Rodleighs, a trapeze troupe in a traveling circus. Like Nouwen’s own life, a trapeze act is full of artistry, exhilarating successes, crushing failures and continual forgiveness. He wrote about his experience in a genre new to him: creative non-fiction.
In Flying, Falling, Catching, Nouwen's colleague and friend Carolyn Whitney-Brown presents his unpublished trapeze writings framed by the true story of his rescue through a hotel window by paramedics during his first heart attack. Readers will meet Nouwen as a spiritual risk taker who was transformed through his engagement with these trapeze artists, as well as his participation in the Civil Rights movement, his life in community with people with intellectual disabilities, his personal growth through friendships during the 1990s AIDS pandemic, and other unexpected encounters.
What will we do with our lives, and with whom will we do it? In this story of flying and catching, Nouwen invites us all to let go and fly, even when we are afraid of falling.
Carolyn Whitney-Brown is a Canadian writer, speaker, illustrator and university teacher who earned a PhD in English literature. 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 with her husband.
“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
"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
“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
“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
“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
"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
“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
"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, Galway
“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
"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.
“A theologically inflected narrative that explores Nouwen’s fascination with a group of trapeze artists while imagining what he experienced during the last days of his life. Whitney-Brown’s story circles around [Nouwen’s] unfinished manuscript and its recurring themes of vulnerability, trust, fear, bravery, and freedom.” — The Christian Century