Dec 11th to Dec 17th – 3rd Week of Advent: IV. Trust the Catcher

Reading: Part IV, Trust the Catcher, Chapter 20 to Chapter 29; p. 127-180

A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must
trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher
will be there for him. – Henri Nouwen, p. 161
Note: An excerpt from Nouwen’s Our Greatest Gift

We have had another week of heartfelt, touching, and insightful comments and we continued to have new participants join our community and introduce themselves here. Thanks to everyone that is participating in our Advent book discussion—those posting comments and those following along in the quiet of their hearts.

This week we turn to the imperative to trust the catcher. In his journal Henri wrote, “I am convinced that I have been sent to the Rodleighs to discover something new about life and death, love and fear, peace and conflict, Heaven and hell, something I can’t get to know and write about in any other way.” (p.130) What did Henri discover? Here is my take. In his letter to Bart Gavigan we read, “The words that really struck me were words by Rodleigh, ‘When I have done my flying, I have to stretch out my hands, and trust that the catcher will be there for me. The greatest mistake I can make is try to catcher.’ I have thought about these words that express the human challenge to trust your neighbor, to trust your God, to trust love, to trust that we will finally be safe.” (p.171). Henri also refers to God as the ultimate Catcher when he writes, “Dying is trusting in the catcher. To care for the dying is to say, ‘Don’t be afraid. Remember you are the beloved child of God. He will be there when you make your long jump….Just stretch out your arms and hands and trust, trust, trust.'” For me, living spiritually, not just dying, is trusting in the catcher. Henri summarizes this spiritual insight in the quote in bold at the top of the post.
Does Henri’s spiritual insight resonate with your personal experience? Who are the catchers in your life? For whom are you the catcher? Do you find the image of God as the ultimate Catcher helpful? To the extent you are comfortable, share and example of flying and catching in your life.

In addition to trusting the catcher, there are other scenes and ideas worthy of your reflection.

  • “I saw many connections between my L’Arche community in Toronto and this circus community… They are both communities for special people.” (Nouwen, p. 136)
  • Chapter 23 presents Henri’s encounter with Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son and his emotional, psychological, and spiritual breakdown.
  • Chapter 25 describes Henri’s trapeze flight followed by the discussion about the Flying Rodleighs between Henri and his friends Ron and Fran.
  • “They are just people like we are. (note: with conflict, struggles). (W)hen you go on the trapeze, forget everything else. Be only there and totally there….to be totally present in the present…” (Nouwen, p. 173)
  • “You know it was like the university was the mind, L’Arche was the heart, but the trapeze was about the body. And the body tells a spiritual story.” (Nouwen, p. 180)

As always, you are invited to share whatever touched you in the reading–whether it is related to trusting the catcher, one of the other scenes or ideas, or something else entirely.

Briefly looking ahead, author Carolyn Whitney-Brown will be joining our online discussion group during the 4th Week of Advent beginning next Sunday. She is looking forward to responding to your comments and questions.

We look forward to another week of fruitful discussion.

This entry was posted in Advent 2022 - Flying Falling Catching. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Dec 11th to Dec 17th – 3rd Week of Advent: IV. Trust the Catcher

  1. Margaret nichols says:

    I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to join the insightful discussions as much as I would have like to. One image that stood out to me in the documentary was seeing Henri having so much fun. His childlike wonder bursting from him. It was when they put the harness on him and he ran back and forth on the net. I laughed to see him have so much fun. Then I cried. So happy to see him in his precious childlike heart. So alive, so loving

  2. Marge says:

    P. 129 stretches me…”If the ending is there, it’ll act as a magnetic pole drawing everything toward it.” Henri’s making note of this from “Writing Creative Nonfiction” gets my attention which then helps get a fuller meaning of Henri’s May 14th entry where he writes, “But here I am, and it feels like the only good place to be right now. What tomorrow will bring, I will find out tomorrow. I am happy that I don’t have to know that today.” What a contented place to be in, in spite of the questioning that Henri continues to ask.

    And “I see little stories everywhere…”. p. 129. Oddly, I find this helpful in seeking a new way to write a report of Church Life Commission ministries over the past year for my faith community’s January business meeting. Trusting that God’s most Holy Spirit will act as a magnetic draw……integrating both contentment and encouragement for
    trusting in Jesus!

  3. Sharon K. Hall says:

    This section of the book has been very thought-provoking to me and also the comments so far very thought-provoking to me too. My vocation goal is to at some point design and sew garments for wheelchair users who are women or other women who have physical challenges, arthritis and problems with mobility in their shoulders and so forth. So I read a book “Eighth-Day Discipleship: A New Vision for Faith, Work and Economics” by Lutheran Pastor Richard H. Bliese. The idea in this book is that many people compartmentalize our lives and separate Sunday from the rest of the week and, because of that, can lead very unfulfilled work lives. In my opinion, Henri Nouwen in his observations of the Flying Rodleighs seems to be enthralled as to this trapeze troupe managing to live sort of integrated lives wherein their values impact upon their work lives in a most fulfilling way. Henri Nouwen’s thinking about Incarnation and also bodily pre-occupations brings, to my mind anyway, that his vocation is as a Priest and, when he writes on page 16, “hope that I would be able to help myself and others to overcome the deep-seated temptation of self-rejection” and leads me to reflect upon my own pre-occupation with bodies that are somehow challenged and the fact that I have also always felt my body to be challenged, never really good enough or beautiful enough or adequate enough for me to feel acceptable and actually my desire is to not be pre-occupied in this negative way with my own body. It’s like somehow taking on a vocation of helping others to overcome the deep-seated temptation of self-rejection–by designing and sewing garments which would help them to feel whole and beautiful would somehow, in the process, bring healing to me too. page 140 “Is beauty in its essence a shared spiritual endeavor?” So it was interesting that he writes about the 3 movements: (1) from career to vocation–each member of the troupe and also the assistants at L’Arche Daybreak; (2) from individualism to community, people somehow living in community and that there could be no competition among them, no heroes, no anger or jealousy, and they had to practice their act continually together and constantly assess themselves, have compassion, forgiveness, and a shared rhythm of life. ‘Look how they love each other!’ is how Jesus said Christians would be recognized, and the same was true of the circus community.’; (3) from entertainment to inspiration “the point of the trapeze act is not just to distract people but to give them a glimpse of the beauty of life. Not only artistic beauty but a beautiful vision of humanity in harmony where it is possible for people to feel safe with one another. In fact, the Flying Rodleighs offered a vision of amazement, joy, rapture, beauty, elegance.” page 142 Henri Nouwen imagined members of the audience like himself thinking, “I am not simply forgetting my trouble but I see who I am, can be, and want to be. In that way, “the trapeze act is for others” he wrote, because it reveals the life of vocation and community, as does L’Arche.” All of the experiences and thinking and reflections Henri Nouwen had been having really, in my own take anyway, can be applied to everyone’s own spiritual callings, vocational callings, work lives, economic lives and especially faith lives, relationship to God and neighbor in a more purposeful way than simply adjusting ourselves to the brokenness we can sort of see in our world. This is a very hopeful book to be reading at this Advent season and benefits a very wide diversity of us readers. Thank you for all the guidance in reading and understanding it.

    • Barry Sullivan says:

      Thank you Sharon for these in-depth reflections on our readings.

      Just to respond to one of your points, I too was interested in his thoughts about using those three movements as a way of telling the story of the Rodleighs (pp. 141-142). But then we note the shift in his thinking (p. 142-143).

      Best wishes in that wonderful “vocation goal” you mention at the beginning of you posting.

  4. The explanation of trust that the flyer has for the catcher is the closest example of our necessary trust in God. As children some of us had this trust in parents or God. It is very difficult to have trust of others if we did not experience as children. So when you look at our world today it is easy to understand our mess. So for me I need to constantly remind myself that God loves me, inspite of myself. I give thanks always for people like Henri who help me on the journey

  5. Ray Glennon says:

    From Susan
    I appreciated the author’s sharing of Henri’s being able to face his inner anguish because of the safety and support of his new community at Daybreak. His community was a place without competition or any need to prove himself, and a safe place to “fall”. And, it was, in particular, Adam, who showed Henri the way to freedom through vulnerability, as he realized that he was “becoming like Adam”. When everything was stripped away, it was then that Henri began to hear the voice calling him the Beloved. It would seem that, through much suffering, anguish, and intensive work with therapists and on his own, Henri came home to himself. Perhaps that prepared him to so fully engage in his sixtieth birthday celebration and to fully embody being reborn as a baby clown from the clown egg. Reading the description of his “rebirth”, there was no sense of him feeling self-conscious or embarrassed, or of putting on an act to please others. He fully engaged in the wonder of the moment.

    • Ray Glennon says:

      From Susan
      Today, I am still pondering Henri’s coming to the place where he could hear the voice of God calling him the beloved. Though not the main focus of this book, it strikes me that his story is so relatable. Henri wrote, “I was going through the deep human struggle to believe in my belovedness even when I had nothing to be proud of……For a long time I distrusted the voice. I kept saying to myself, “it is a lie. I know the truth. There is nothing in me worth loving.”
      I feel this struggle, too. It’s easy to believe that if I am “good”, then I will hear that voice, and it is precisely the moment when a new depth of sin or failure is uncovered in me, or another dark corner of my heart, that I instinctively feel that God would want to look away in displeasure. It’s so hard to believe in one’s belovedness while at the same time taking an honest look at yourself. I wonder if Henri ever realized how many people he helped by sharing so vulnerable about his own struggles.

      I also resonated with Henri’s observations on page 115 about the circus and the church. For Henri, they were connected, as he wrote, “Aren’t they both trying to lift up the human spirit and help people look beyond the boundaries of their daily lives? And aren’t they both, at the same time, in constant peril of becoming places for lifeless routines that have lost their vitality and transcending power?”

      • Jackie Rutkowski says:

        I agree, the church reflects the personal struggles we all have between the heights of feeling our belovedness and the times of desolation in our lives. I have come to have faith that times of desolation are a source of leaning in and trusting God even more. That is God’s wish for us to rely solely on him in all circumstances but it is difficult as men. Even Jesus had times of questioning and turmoil as in the garden of Gethsemane.

  6. Kaye Hunt says:

    A personal version of the catcher: When my husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, I remember it becoming really important for us to to state aloud almost daily that we are perfectly safe and that there was nothing to be afraid of. This declaration steadied us throughout his illness until he finally went home in 2014. It still steadies me now.

  7. Ray Glennon says:

    Last week Ana asked “Is Henri Nouwen’s sexual preference connected to the flying Rodleighs? How does Henri Nouwen’s sexual orientation add to his insights?”
    You may recall I replied with my thoughts. I also reached out to Gabrielle Earnshaw, Nouwen scholar, founding archivist of the Henri J.M. Nouwen Archives and Research Collection, and author of the forthcoming authorized biography of Henri Nouwen.

    From Gabrielle Earnshaw
    This is a good and important question, and one that gets asked frequently about Henri Nouwen. It could be asked about all of his insights about the human condition and God’s reality. Some readers will argue that Nouwen’s sexual orientation is at the root of all he did. They argue that his entire life was an attempt to resolve his relationship with his sexuality. Perhaps, however, what may have had a greater impact is Nouwen’s internalized homophobia and the experience that his same-sex attraction was something to be hidden. Nouwen suffered from low self-esteem and was dogged by feelings of unworthiness. His central questions for most of his life were “Do I belong?” and “Am I wanted in this world?” These were primal question related to insecurity about his loveability. Psychologists might have names for this condition and could trace out the root causes to various experiences in his life. Certainly one would be his experience of being gay in an anti-gay world.

    Yet, when I consider what were the conditions that led to Nouwen’s insights that night in 1991 at the circus with his father, I am inclined to conclude that Nouwen’s sexual orientation was only one variable that led to his insights. A series of incidents and experiences – beginning in 1986 when he moved to L’Arche Daybreak – had significant impact as well.

    The context of his insights is important: It was 1991 and Nouwen was just completing his masterwork about spiritual maturity in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son. He was a few years past recovery from his depression which had opened up a profound sense of being God’s beloved. A car accident and subsequent near-death experience in 1989 had gifted him with a powerful experience of Jesus’ presence and a renewed commitment to forgiveness in his relations with people. He was beginning a ministry of caring for the spiritual needs of men with AIDS. Most importantly, Henri Nouwen was, perhaps for the first time, feeling at home, in both the physical and metaphorical meaning of the word. His move to L’Arche Daybreak in 1986, with the friendship of Sister Sue Mosteller and others, had created a place he felt safe and loved not for what he did, but for who he was. His friendship with Adam Arnett, one of the core members of Daybreak, opened up an experience of physicality, of human touch, of being at home in his body, that was entirely new. When Nouwen saw the Flying Rodleighs he was seeing them through the lens of all this experience. He was seeing them through his experience of God’s incarnational love.

    The working title for his Prodigal Son book was “Canvas of Love”. To me, when Henri Nouwen was dazzled by the Flying Rodleighs he was seeing yet another ‘canvas’ for the creative expression of God’s love. After a life-time of questioning his loveability, in part because of his hidden homosexuality, Henri Nouwen was in place where he could see God’s love made visible in the graceful, acrobatic dance of The Flying Rodleighs.

    There is much more than can be said, but I will conclude with an idea about the possible link between Nouwen’s insights at the Circus and his sexual orientation. It is the idea or concept of self-availability. As Philip John Bewley shows in his recent thesis Queer Catholics as Living Human Documents: Henri J. M. Nouwen, Self-availibility and the Therapeutic Turn in Dutch Catholicism, in the early 1960s Henri Nouwen wrote several essays on the topic of homosexuality. His interest and conclusions were influenced by the intellectual currents in Dutch Catholic Holland at that time which were alive with new approaches towards people of safe-sex attraction. Bewley writes, “These writings culminated in Nouwen’s 1971 published essay ‘The Self-availability of the Homosexual,’ where the concept of ‘self-availability’ was offered as way for someone to relate meaningfully to one’s homosexual orientation. For Nouwen, the concept of ‘self-availability’ became the therapeutic means by which homosexual men and women could cultivate a sense of liberation and self-acceptance, in order to make right moral decisions for themselves. ‘Self availability’ was a concept Nouwen borrowed from the writings of certain Dutch Catholic intellectuals where the concept of innerlijke disponibiliteit (inner availability or self availability) was promoted as therapeutic qualities needed for mental health.” (Philip John Bewley, Queer Catholics as Living Human Documents: Henri J. M. Nouwen, Self-availibility and the Therapeutic Turn in Dutch Catholicism, University of Wollongong, January 2022): 1.)

    Is it possible that Henri Nouwen saw in Rodleigh, Jennie, Karlene, Johan and Jon an embodiment of self-availability? Were these people flying through time and space not utterly liberated, fully self-accepting and entirely available to each other and to God’s embrace? It is a vision of humanity fully alive, of people following the deepest desires of their hearts and trusting completely in God’s reality.

    Gabrielle Earnshaw
    Forthcoming: Becoming Henri: The Authorized Biography of Henri Nouwen [working title], St. Martin’s Essentials, St. Martin’s Press, Macmillan; for release Summer 2026.

    • Barry Sullivan says:

      Fascinating and enlightening as we probe the thoughts of a truly remarkable spiritual leader, Henri Nouwen.

      Thanks very much for sharing these informed insights from Gabrielle Earnshaw.

    • Susan says:

      This is a beautiful insight you shared: “To me, when Henri Nouwen was dazzled by the Flying Rodleighs he was seeing yet another ‘canvas’ for the creative expression of God’s love. After a lifetime of questioning his loveability, in part because of his hidden homosexuality, Henri Nouwen was in a place where he could see God’s love made visible in the graceful, acrobatic dance of The Flying Rodleighs.”
      God is indeed an Artist who reveals His love for us on many different ‘canvases’, and oh, how Henri had the eyes to see it! He looked, and looked deeply. It reminds me of a podcast I listened to here in which Henri’s friend, Sue Mosteller, shared a story of going to an art museum with Henri to look at a certain artist’s paintings. When Henri found the particular painting he was interested in seeing, he sat for a long time just looking at it. Finally, Sue asked Henri if he was ready to leave, and he turned to her and said something like “But aren’t you IN the painting?” Henri had eyes to “see” deeply, past the surface of things, to take things into himself where he turned them over and over, pondering, wondering, and mining the deep things of God from them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *