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In this classic account of the time Henri Nouwen spent in Rome, he offers reflections and inspirational insight characteristic of his best work. During the months in Rome, it wasn't the red cardinals or the Red Brigade who had the most impact on Nouwen, but the little things that took place between the great scenes. In some ways, he discovered, the real, true story was told by the clowns he often saw in the city streets.
A classic work by one of this century's most beloved spiritual writers now reissued.
The inspirational writings of Henri Nouwen have touched millions of readers all over the world, and since his death in September 1996, widespread recognition of their enduring value has continued to grow. Now, after being unavailable for several years, Nouwen's Clowning in Rome is available again as an Image trade paperback. In this classic account of the time he spent in Rome, Nouwen offers reflections and spiritual insight characteristic of his best works. During the months in Rome, it wasn't the red cardinals or the Red Brigade who had the most impact on Nouwen, but the little things that took place between the great scenes. In some ways, Nouwen discovered, the real and true story was told by the clowns he often saw in the city streets. In his own words, from the Introduction to Clowning in Rome: "The clowns are not the center of events. They appear between the great acts, fumble and fall and make us smile again after the tensions created by the heroes we came to admire. The clowns don't have it together--they are awkward, out of balance and left-handed, but--they are on our side. The clowns remind us with a tear and a smile that we are sharing the same human weakness. The longer I was in Rome, the more I enjoyed the clowns, those peripheral people who by their humble, saintly lives evoke a smile and awaken hope, even in a city terrorized by kidnapping and street violence."
"Acknowledged as one of the world's great spiritual writers, the renowned Catholic theologian left behind a wealth of insights that have brought
encouragement and ministered to thousands."
Henri J. M. Nouwen was a Catholic priest who taught at several theological institutes and universities in his home country of the Netherlands and in the United States. He shared the final years of his life with people with mental and physical disabilities at the L'Arche Daybreak Community in Toronto, Canada. He died in 1996. He authored many books on the spiritual life, including Reaching Out, The Wounded Healer, and The Return of the Prodigal Son.
Solitude and Community
Solitude and Intimacy
The forces of fear and anger
How can solitude help our world? How can we, by practicing solitude, bring love into the world? In our emergency-oriented society, fear and anger have become powerful forces. Not only do we see in the daily newspapers people driven together by fear or bound together by anger, but we also start to realize that many of us in our families and communities are plagued by a restlessness tainted by fear and anger. We search to satisfy a growing need for community that offers a sense of belonging, a place where frustrations can be expressed, disappointments shared, and pains healed. We who in the past felt quite secure and self-confident today suffer from self-doubt, and sometimes from a deep sense of powerlessness. We who for years felt quite content in our choice of vocation are questioning the meaning of our life choices, wondering if our lives are valuable for others. We may even wonder if we are tainted by dubious motives and false aspirations, and we certainly ask ourselves whether or not we ever make truly free decisions.
This context of self-doubt leads to a deep sense of alienation and loneliness that has challenged us to develop new, more comfortable lifestyles within our own cultures and communities. Here we are discovering how deep our real needs are and how hard it is to feel satisfied in our own homes. It is not surprising that deep yearnings for affection, friendship, and intimacy, which until now had remained beneath the threshold of our consciousness, come to take their place in the very center of awareness. We are troubled and pained in the areas of sexuality, freedom, responsibility, guilt, and shame. These painful yearnings push us to desire a total break with the past and to seek new forms of intimacy that can be more directly experienced. Often those of us who are most sensitive to the fear and anger of our world seek most intensely for solutions, but we also experience deeply a need for affection and tenderness that no family or community can satisfy. This need is troubling and painful.
Thus we wonder if the fear and anger of our world have made it impossible for us to be like children playing pipes and inviting others to dance (Lk. 7:32). Inner torments and restlessness have reached such an intensity that our primary concern has become our own physical and emotional survival. This concern depletes our energy, so that a vital and convincing witness to God's loving and caring presence is hardly possible.
All this suggests that when there is no real intimacy in our lives we are unable to experience a safe and happy environment for very long in our fearful and angry world. For this reason we will take a very careful look at the importance of solitude in our lives. It might be that by de-emphasizing solitude in favor of the urgent needs of our world, we have endangered the very basis of our lives as Christian witnesses. Hence I would like first to discuss solitude as the source of a lasting sense of intimacy.
Free from compulsions
Solitude is the place where we can connect with profound bonds that are deeper than the emergency bonds of fear and anger. Although fear and anger indeed drive us together, they do not give rise to our love for one another. In solitude we come to the realization that we are not driven together but brought together. In solitude we come to know our fellow human beings not as partners who satisfy our deepest needs, but as brothers and sisters with whom we are called to give visibility to God's all-embracing love. In solitude we discover that family or community is not some common ideology but a response to a common call. In solitude we indeed experience that community is not made but given.
Solitude, then, is not private time in contrast to time together, nor is it a time to restore our tired minds. Solitude is very different from a "time-out" from our busy lives. Solitude is the very ground from which community grows. Whenever we pray alone, study, read, write, or simply spend quiet time away from the places where we interact with each other directly, we are potentially opened for a deeper intimacy with each other. It is a fallacy to think that we grow closer to each other only when we talk, play, or work together. Much growth certainly occurs in such human interactions, but these interactions derive their fruit from solitude, because in solitude our intimacy with each other is deepened. In solitude we discover each other in a way that physical presence makes difficult if not impossible. In solitude we know a bond with each other that does not depend on words, gestures, or actions but is rather a bond much deeper than our own efforts could ever create.
If we base our life together on our physical proximity, on our ability to spend time together, speak with each other, eat together, and worship together, life quickly starts fluctuating according to moods, personal attractiveness, and mutual compatibility, and thus becomes very demanding and tiring. Solitude, on the other hand, puts us in touch with a unity that precedes all unifying activities. In solitude we become aware that we were together before we came together and that life is not a creation of our will but rather an obedient response to the reality of our being united. Whenever we enter into solitude, we witness to a love that transcends our interpersonal communications and proclaims that we love each other because we have been loved first (1 Jn. 4:19). Solitude keeps us in touch with the sustaining love from which we draw strength. It sets us free from the compulsions of fear and anger and allows us to be in the midst of an anxious and violent world as a sign of hope and a source of courage. In short, solitude creates that free community, that natural family that makes bystanders say, "See how they love each other."
Buy Clowning in Rome: Reflections on Solitude, Celibacy, Prayer, and Contemplation by Henri J. M. Nouwen & Sue Mosteller from our Christian Books store - isbn: 9780385499996 & 038549999X
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