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Book: Clowning in Rome: Reflections on Solitude, Celibacy, Prayer, and Contemplation
Author: Henri J.M. Nouwen
Image Books, NY, pp.110

Excerpt from Introduction:

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 kidnaping and street violence. . . .

The four chapters in this book were written as lectures for English-speaking sisters, priests, and seminarians in Rome, and they call attention to four clownlike elements in the spiritual life: solitude, celibacy, prayer, and contemplation. My growing love for the clowns in Rome made me desire to clown around a little myself and to speak about such foolish things as being alone, treasuring emptiness, standing naked before God, and simply seeing things for what they are. I came to feel that in this full, imposing, venerable, and busy city there must be a very deep desire to live out the other side of our being, the side that wants to play, dance, smile, and do many other useless things.

Excerpt from Book:

Free from compulsions

Solitude is the place where we can reach the profound bond that is deeper than the emergency bonds of fear and anger. Although fear and anger can indeed drive us together, they cannot give rise to a common witness. In solitude we can 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 can 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 community is not a common ideology, but a response to a common call. In solitude we indeed realize that community is not made but given.

Solitude, then, is not private time in contrast to time together, nor a time to restore our tired minds. Solitude is very different from a time-out from community life.

Solitude is the ground from which community grows. When we pray alone, study, read, write, or simply spend quiet time away from the places where we interact with each other directly, we enter into 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. There we recognize a bond with each other that does not depend on words, gestures, or actions, a bond much deeper than our own efforts can 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, community life quickly starts fluctuating according to moods, personal attractiveness, and mutual compatibility, and thus will become very demanding and tiring. Solitude is essential for community life because there we begin to discover a unity that is prior to all unifying actions. In solitude we become aware that we were together before we came together and that community life is not a creation of our will but 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.

Solitude keeps us in touch with the sustaining love from which community draws its 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 makes bystanders says, "See how they love each other."

Table of Contents:

1. Solitude and Community
2. Celibacy and the Holy
3. Prayer and Thought
4. Contemplation and Ministry