FLYING, FALLING, CATCHING: An Unlikely Story of Finding Freedom
Co-authored with the late Henri Nouwen, Flying, Falling, Catching tells the story of Nouwen's friendship with the Flying Rodleighs trapeze troupe, and why his last manuscript was left unfinished at his death in 1996.
Published March 2022 by HarperOne in hardcover, eBook and as an audiobook.
You can watch my short pre-publication introduction to the book on the Henri Nouwen & Carolyn Whitney-Brown YouTube channel for Flying, Falling, Catching: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2WhsMh-adhph4YnQFz39YQ
Contact me at carolynwhitneybrown @ gmail.com
- ONLINE RETREAT Sun Apr 23 - Fri Apr 28: La Ferme retreat centre in France is offering an online retreat with talks by me and Curt Armstrong of L'Arche International, titled "Flying, Falling, Catching: Practicing Trust and Finding Freedom with Henri Nouwen." See https://www.lafermedelarche.org/en/sessions/flying/
- Jan 13, 2023 -- BOOK REVIEW by Rachel Mann: https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2023/13-january/books-arts/book-reviews/flying-falling-catching-an-unlikely-story-of-finding-freedom-by-henri-nouwen-and-carolyn-whitney-brown
- The GERMAN EDITION was published in February 2023: https://www.neufeld-verlag.de/shop/loslassen-und-fliegen/
HarperCollins asked me to write a free study guide for small groups. You can find it online at: https://dk4dsgfbgkmll.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/07212250/FlyingFallingCatching_2p_SGG.pdf
Available now online:
- BOOK LAUNCH WEBINAR by the Henri Nouwen Society: "Under the Big Top with Henri Nouwen" released on Wed Sept. 21, on the 26th anniversary of Henri's death: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYiGzjNNlb4
- Michael Centore interviewed me for "Today's American Catholic" - listen/watch or read the interview, along with an excerpt from the book: https://www.todaysamericancatholic.org/2022/09/energy-joy-and-solidarity/
- My short reflection on how the book came to be and what I'm thinking about now - Paul Wilkinson invited me to tell more of the story behind the book: https://paulwilkinson.wordpress.com/2022/08/22/henri-nouwen-and-the-acrobats-behind-the-making-of-the-book/ posted also at: https://bookshoptalk.wordpress.com/2022/08/22/the-story-behind-flying-falling-catching-by-henri-nouwen/
- NOV 19 ZOOM SEMINAR with John Dear, Beatitudes Center, and commentary by Sr Sue Mosteller. A few years before his death, Henri wrote in a letter to John Dear, “One day I hope to be able to tell you about a very interesting month I spent recently with a German circus. In some ways, life in a circus is not dissimilar to life in a community of nonviolence.” The event was recorded: contact John Dear at the Beatitudes Center: https://beatitudescenter.org/
- NOV 15 INTERVIEW with Matt Hackworth of L'Arche USA - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zNac-ZOVqQ
- PUBLIC LECTURE Oct. 6: "The experience of an enfleshed spirituality" Centre for Studies in Religion and Society, University of Victoria, British Columbia. https://www.uvic.ca/research/centres/csrs/assets/docs/4-whitney-brown_oct62022.pdf. Full lecture online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7b5cJ_h-9Dw
- JULY 28 READING with Joe Abbey-Colborne reading Henri Nouwen - hosted by Rob Crosby-Shearer of Abbey Church and Emmaus Community, with support from the Canada Council for the Arts through the Writers Union of Canada. Audio recording at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYv_OmD6ttc
- Dec 2022 ADVENT BOOK DISCUSSION hosted online by the Henri Nouwen Society - see https://wp.henrinouwen.org/
The first two BOOK LAUNCH EVENTS offered glimpses into two communities that were important to Henri:
- MARCH 12 - the INTERNATIONAL BOOK LAUNCH PARTY with Rodleigh Stevens, founder of the Flying Rodleighs trapeze troupe. Rodleigh Stevens provided live commentary, as he showed film footage of the Flying Rodleighs act that Henri Nouwen first saw, along with hilarious video of Henri Nouwen trying the trapeze and frolicking playfully after falling into the net! Watch the recording on the Henri Nouwen & Carolyn Whitney-Brown YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2WhsMh-adhph4YnQFz39YQ
- APRIL 5 - live online BOOK LAUNCH with L’ARCHE DAYBREAK. This was a delight! -- beautiful, profound, silly, messy, cheerful, big-hearted. It embodied the L’Arche culture and humour that is so hard to describe, the energy and spirit of the community that Henri loved. Watch the recording at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0rRA_fmdNVYPp1Jg6HMOodKHKLoF9RsB
- "Things Not Seen: Conversations about Culture and Faith" with David Dault: David understood right away that the core of the book is not a spiritual lesson, but rather Henri's physical experience of a live performance: https://www.thingsnotseenradio.com/shows/2219-whitney-brown
- "Following the Fire" podcast with Steve Martin and Nathan Wheat, posted April 27 - https://www.followingthefire.com/50
- "Henri Nouwen, Now & Then" podcast with Karen Pascal, posted March 5 - we discuss how this new book differs from Henri's other writing - https://henrinouwen.org/listen/carolyn-whitney-brown/
- "This is Not Church" podcast with Jon and Nat Turney, posted March 14 - Jon and Nat were so caught up in reading the book that they could not concentrate on the SuperBowl game! True story. https://thisisnotchurchpodcast.podbean.com/e/flying-falling-catching-a-conversation-with-carolyn-whitney-brown/
Sorry if you missed:
- MAY 24 - Live, in-person READING with Q&A at South Cowichan Public Library, Mill Bay. Hosted by the Vancouver Island Regional Library with support from the Canada Council for the Arts through the Writers Union of Canada.
- OCT 30 - BOOK LAUNCH Reading with music provided by the Low Commitment Blues Band. Hosted by Sylvan United Church, Mill Bay with support from the Canada Council for the Arts through the Writers Union of Canada.
REVIEWS and BLOGS
- Church Times review by Rachel Mann: "this is a book full of insight ... In this ostensibly non-religious circus troupe, Nouwen discerned 'a community of love that can break through the boundaries of ordinariness'. Whitney-Brown captures with wit and tenderness the “odd-couple” friendship between the gawky writer-priest and the circus artistes. ... Ultimately, insights abound. Nouwen’s notebooks reveal how the Rodleighs deepen his understanding of human difference and otherness, and inspire him to fresh insights into the nature of vocation." https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2023/13-january/books-arts/book-reviews/flying-falling-catching-an-unlikely-story-of-finding-freedom-by-henri-nouwen-and-carolyn-whitney-brown
- The Tablet Books of the Year: "Tablet reviewers pick the very best books published in 2022": https://www.thetablet.co.uk/books/10/22613/books-of-the-year
- Quill & Quire review: "perhaps this book serves as a beautiful example of how even the most exquisite of truths are revealed to us through imperfect people and inauspicious circumstances" - https://quillandquire.com/review/flying-falling-catching-an-unlikely-story-of-finding-freedom/
- Broadview Magazine review: "The resulting book is a fascinating read, both as a portrait of Nouwen and for the insight it offers into his creative process." https://broadview.org/henri-nouwen-flying-falling-catching/
- Mike Mason review: "a wonderfully absorbing story that enchanted me for three reasons..." https://www.mikemasonbooks.com/flying-falling-catching-a-new-henri-nouwen-book/
- Broadway Direct "Best New Theater Books for This Spring 2022” review: "An intriguing capper to one of the best known thinkers of religion since Thomas Merton.” https://broadwaydirect.com/the-best-new-theater-books-for-this-spring-2022/
- Goodreads reviews include this: "Highly readable and compelling, the author weaves together Nouwen's writings and her own narrative style into a thoughtful and engaging story that will resonate with anyone interested in the big questions about friendship, fear, and how we show up for each other." https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56026208-flying-falling-catching
- Richard Propes review: "Whitney-Brown beautifully captures Nouwen as a joy-filled, almost child-like spiritual risk-taker who found a freedom in his later years as his carefully structured life increasingly became one of unpredictability, learning, vulnerability, and even failures" - https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R1DD52L70OR97V?ref=pf_vv_at_pdctrvw_srp
- The Christian Bookshop, Rugby, UK: "It's a great story about someone who looked deeper into how we all see the world and was not disappointed!" https://www.facebook.com/christianbookshorugby/photos/a.1627144250889218/3203594369910857/
- The Banner Magazine (Christian Reformed Church in North America): "Whitney-Brown gives gentle voice to Nouwen’s lifelong struggle with his sexual orientation and his aloneness, an acceptance of his own physical body and his social awkwardness. As Nouwen observes his trapezing friends he receives another picture of the grace, poise, and forgiveness that he so desires. To fly, to fall, and be caught again. It is everything a beloved community hopes to be." https://www.thebanner.org/mixed-media/2022/06/flying-falling-catching-an-unlikely-story-of-finding-freedom
- Christian Century: "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.”
And don't miss all the pre-publication reviews -- I was fascinated by how diverse readers discovered their own meaning in the story: https://www.harpercollins.ca/9780063113527/flying-falling-catching/
“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 Ray & Joan: the Man Who Made the McDonalds Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away
“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.
You can find FLYING, FALLING, CATCHING at your favourite bookstore, online, or at your local public library
- In Canada: https://www.harpercollins.ca/9780063113527/flying-falling-catching/
- In the US: https://www.harpercollins.com/products/flying-falling-catching-henri-j-m-nouwencarolyn-whitney-brown?variant=39395363848226
- In UK: https://spckpublishing.co.uk/flying-falling-catching
CAROLYN WHITNEY-BROWN Background
I completed my B.A. at Victoria College, University of Toronto, and my M.A. and Ph.D. at Brown University in Rhode Island. My doctoral thesis explored social and political meanings of childbirth stories in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England, using a wide variety of texts including drama, poetry, legal cases, midwifery manuals, diaries, theological discussions, homilies and popular news. My research interests continue to investigate how stories are told, and which stories remain important in diverse historical and cultural contexts.
I lived at L'Arche Daybreak in Richmond Hill for seven years with my partner Geoff and our children, and since then I have completed projects for L'Arche Canada and L'Arche International. Founded in 1964 in France, L'Arche is an international Federation of communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together. My two commissioned door paintings can be seen at the Dayspring Chapel of L'Arche Daybreak. You can see them and read about their creation here: https://larchedaybreak.com/the-painted-doors-of-the-dayspring-chapel%EF%BB%BF-by-carrie-whitney-brown/
After leaving L'Arche, I coordinated national projects for the Canadian Council of Churches and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and for The United Church of Canada. I am presently a fellow at University of Victoria's Centre for Studies in Religion and Society, and I teach Religious Studies for St. Jerome's University at University of Waterloo.
My publications include essays in In Another Country: Feminist Perspectives on Renaissance Drama (1991), Northern Lights: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Writing in Canada (2008), Remembering Henri (2006), and the Foreword to DLT (Darton Longman and Todd)'s 1997 and 2013 editions of Henri Nouwen's Road to Daybreak.
---- --- --- About Jean Vanier --- --- ---
My first three books were each to some degree about Jean Vanier. The first was a selection of his writings in 2008 (Orbis, Novalis, DLT updated in 2019): https://www.dartonlongmantodd.co.uk/titles/2261-9780232534375-jean-vanier-essential-writings. When Vanier died in May 2019, I wrote an obituary for Sojourners: https://sojo.net/articles/jean-vanier-remembering-icon-not-idol. Later in 2019, my second book, Sharing Life: Stories of L'Arche Founders (Paulist Press), traced how Jean Vanier's telling of the story of the founding of L'Arche Trosly evolved between 1964-2015, then told the stories of how L'Arche communities were founded in the next seven countries around the world: https://www.paulistpress.com/Products/5431-9/sharing-life.aspx. My third book Tender to the World (MQUP 2019) explored disability and Canadian ecumenism through how people in the United Church of Canada, with and without intellectual disabilities, took up Vanier's vision: https://www.mqup.ca/tender-to-the-world-products-9780773559127.php.
Days after the shocking news of Jean Vanier's manipulative and abusive sexual behaviour broke in Feb 2020, Broadview magazine interviewed me: https://broadview.org/jean-vanier-abuse-report/
Soon afterwards, I was asked to offer further reflections about Jean Vanier for the journal Critical Theology. That March 2020 article can be found under the Related Links tab at: https://www.mqup.ca/tender-to-the-world-products-9780773559127.php?page_id=73&
In a June 2020 paper presented for the Canadian Society of Church History, I offered possible directions for further research: https://historicalpapers.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/historicalpapers/article/view/39734/36022
Hugely helpful has been Tanya Marlow's reflection, "But his books are still good, right? – 5 things Christians must stop saying about sexual abusers": https://tanyamarlow.com/5-stupid-things-christians-say-sexual-abusers/
In 2020, I agreed to write something further about Vanier a year later. My reflection "Making Out Jean Vanier" was published in Religious Studies and Theology 40.1, June 2021, 122‒130. After that, turning my attention to other projects was a great relief.
However, a new report released in January 2023 renewed attention on Jean Vanier, and Sojourners contacted me for interviews and to write something about the report. I struggled to bring myself back to focusing on Vanier, especially as his duplicity and callousness become more apparent, but I agreed to be interviewed for the Sojo.net podcast series: https://sojo.net/media/gallery/lead-us-not and to write a short reflection: https://sojo.net/articles/its-tempting-dangerous-protect-faith-leaders-we-admire. I hope these will be helpful.