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 email@example.com.