Nov 27th to Dec 3rd – 1st Week of Advent: I. The Call & II. Falling (Part 1)

Reading: Part I, The Call, Chapter 1 to Part II, Falling, Chapter 11; p. 9 to 73

The trapeze act gave rise to a desire in me that no other art form could
evoke; the desire to belong to a community of love that can break
through the boundaries of ordinariness. – Henri Nouwen, p. 19

A warm welcome to everyone and special thanks to the many people who introduced yourselves. Our virtual global community includes participants from across the United States and Canada, Australia, the Philippines, and the United Kingdom—with a mix of new participants and veterans of previous Henri Nouwen Society book discussions. We’re glad that you are here and we look forward to your contributions as we journey together through what promises to be a blessed and fruitful time of preparation for Christmas. 

As a work of creative non-fiction and a collaboration by co-authors Henri Nouwen and Carolyn Whitney-Brown, Flying, Falling, Catching is a distinctive addition to the Henri Nouwen canon. Writing 25 years after Henri’s death, Carolyn uses the details of Henri’s rescue through a hospital window in September 1996, together with notes from Henri’s unfinished attempt to write a story about The Flying Rodleighs, and her understanding of many of the experiences of Henri’s life journey to tell a compelling story about the life journey of a spiritual master. In doing so she, along with Henri, paint a picture that gives us new insights into Henri’s life and spirituality that are meaningful today.

As always in these book discussions, we are most interested in learning what touched your heart in the reading. What points did you find interesting and why? What insights did you gain and how may those insights affect your life? What did you find comforting, or enlightening, or challenging, and why? What questions arose in the reading? Or simply share what you read and how and why it affected you. Here are several quotations or thoughts that that may prompt your reflections.

a) “This is, Henri thinks to himself, an interruption. . . . There have been many interruptions in his life. Some have turned out well.” (Whitney-Brown, p. 10)
What interruptions have you had in your life? How did you respond?

b) “. . . the residents of Daybreak have helped me to rediscover the simple but profound truth that all people, handicapped or not, are the beloved daughters and sons of God and that they can find true inner meaning by claiming that truth for themselves. . . This spiritual insight touched me so deeply I wanted to . . . be able to help myself and others to overcome the deep-seated temptation of self-rejection.” (Nouwen, p. 15).
You are the Beloved is Henri’s central spiritual insight and one of his most important books. How might this insight have prepared Henri to encounter The Flying Rodleighs at this point in his spiritual journey?

c) “(Henri thought) Flying and catching. It’s everything I have always desired.” (Whitney-Brown, p. 18); “. . . (T)he high-flyers in any field, held a particular fascination for Henri.” (Whitney-Brown, p. 25)
As we begin this discussion, do you share Henri’s fascination with flying and catching and the high-flyers in the world? Why or why not?

d) “. . . I was suddenly confronted with the other side of this air-ballet, not simply the dangers of physical harm, but the experience of failure, shame, guilt, frustration, and anger.” (Nouwen, p. 31)
Why do you think this “other side” affected Nouwen to the degree that it did?

e) “I was convinced that the encounter with these five artists had indeed opened a new window in my life and that it would be very sad if I didn’t look through it as long and as attentively as I could.” (Nouwen, p. 51)
Based the story that Carolyn is weaving, do you see these artists and the new window in the same way Henri does? Why or why not? How would you respond?

f) In Chapter 8, Henri describes watching two performances, one by Tina Turner and David Bowie and the other a choir singing Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. He explores how he is attracted to both. Which performance would attract you more at this point in your life? Why?

g) Henri longed to “join a community of people on the move together.”
(Whitney-Brown, p. 68)
In Chapter 11 we learn of Henri’s participation in the communities that participated in the second march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 and in the funeral procession for Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.
How does Chapter 11 influence your understanding of Henri and his ministry? How do you think it relates to overall story of Flying, Falling, Catching?

h) “You know in this world where there is so much division. . . the Rodleighs are in a way peacemakers. They create community. . . . You know, it’s all there in one act—what life is all about, what the world is all about.” (Nouwen, p. 73)
At this point in the book, do you see the Rodleighs the same way as Henri? Why or why not?

Again, the paragraphs above are just to prompt your thinking. You can respond to one or more of the prompts or share whatever is on your heart. We want to benefit from whatever you choose to share. We also welcome participants that choose to follow along silently without posting. We look forward to an illuminating and fruitful discussion for all participants.

Peace and all good.

P.S. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me, either by posting a comment or email at

Nov 23rd to Nov 26th: Welcome and Introductions

Reading: Prologue, p. 1 to 5

I wasn’t thinking of using the Rodleighs as illustrations for great spiritual
truths, but was simply trying to write a good story. —Henri Nouwen p. 5

Along the way, you may also catch some unexpected
insights. —Carolyn Whitney-Brown p. 5

A warm welcome to each of you as we gather at this “most wonderful time of the year” for another Henri Nouwen Society book discussion. As always, a beautiful community of people will gather for a fruitful discussion as we journey toward Christmas together. If you’ve joined us in the past, welcome back! If this is your first book discussion, we are so glad you are here!

This Advent we will read and discuss the recently published Flying, Falling, Catching: An Unlikely Story of Finding Freedom—a unique collaboration between a spiritual master, the late Henri Nouwen, and his friend and colleague Carolyn Whitney-Brown writing today. As Carolyn describes in the Prologue, during the last five years of his life, Henri Nouwen became close friends with a group of trapeze artists, The Flying Rodleighs. Through the Rodleighs, Henri discovered more about himself and gained significant new insights into how to live a spiritual life. Henri began writing about his experience with the trapeze troop, however, his book remained unfinished at his untimely death. In this book, Carolyn presents Henri’s unpublished trapeze writings framed by the true story of his rescue through a hotel window by paramedics during his first heart attack. With Carolyn as our guide (using Henri’s own words wherever possible to narrate the story), we will follow Henri on his deeply personal, often difficult, and ultimately fruitful and inspiring spiritual journey.

While our primary source will be the book itself, you might be interested in resources that Carolyn has posted on her author website ( including book launch events, podcast interviews, and book reviews. We will refer to a few of these in the coming weeks.

I’m looking forward sharing a spirit-filled Advent season with this online community of seekers as we gather together to to discuss Flying, Falling, Catching by Henri Nouwen and Carolyn Whitney-Brown. Our discussion begins in earnest on Sunday, November 27th with the first reading assignment and suggested questions.

As we begin our journey together, it’s always nice to know something about our companions. Over the next few days you are encouraged to introduce yourself. You may choose to share:

  • Your general geographic location.
  • To whom or what you dedicate your days or energy, and why.
  • How you came to know and read Henri Nouwen and whether or not you have participated in previous Henri Nouwen Society online discussions.
  • What you hope to gain from this experience.

Please scroll to the bottom of the page to post a comment introducing yourself and to share other thoughts as we embark on our Advent journey.

Shown below my signature is a brief personal introduction followed by the book discussion instructions for those joining us for the first time or interested in a review.

In gratitude,

Ray Glennon, Moderator: Ray and his wife Dawn live in Columbia, Maryland. He came to know and trust Henri’s written word in a special way in 2004 when he discovered The Return of the Prodigal Son for sale after Mass in Singapore at a difficult and transformative point in his life. He began participating in Henri Nouwen Society book discussions in 2010 and has served as a moderator since 2014. He has developed and led several adult education courses based on the life and work of Henri Nouwen. Ray and his wife are professed members of Secular Franciscan Order (OFS) and he volunteers in various ministries in his Catholic parish and at the Franciscan Shrine of St. Anthony. You may contact Ray by email at and you can follow him on Twitter.

Henri Nouwen Society Online Book Discussion Instructions
Let’s briefly describe how our online book discussion works. If you’ve joined us before, this will serve as a review.

Beginning this Sunday, November 27th, and each Sunday throughout Advent, a new entry or post will be added to the book discussion (the blog) home page. The post will identify the reading for the week, present a brief moderator’s reflection, and suggest some questions for discussion. Participants are invited and encouraged to comment on the post by responding to the suggested questions, by sharing their own reflections, and by replying to the comments of others throughout the week.

To read the comments or to leave a comment of your own, scroll down to the bottom of the post.  If you don’t see any comments, click on the small link at the bottom that says
## Comments.  To leave a new comment, continue scrolling down and use the “Leave a Reply” box.  To reply to someone else’s comment, click the Reply link directly below their comment. After you submit a new comment or a reply, it needs to be “approved” either by me or Will at the Henri Nouwen Society so it may take a few hours before it actually appears on the blog page. If you have any questions or problems, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at