This is a reissue of a volume of lectures given during the 1970s in Rome by Henri J. M. Nouwen to an English-speaking community of sisters, priests, and seminarians. The author sets up these talks by comparing his listeners to clowns, "those peripheral people who by their humble, saintly lives evoke a smile and awaken hope." Nouwen focuses on four clown-like elements in the spiritual life.

Solitude is a place for an in-depth encounter with God. For Nouwen, it offers an antidote to the fear and anger that often draw people together in strange ways. This quiet place of listening can nourish and nurture Christian faith.

In his discussion of celibacy, Nouwen refers to it as "a vacancy for God." This lifestyle commitment enables individuals to live simply and to witness "to the priority of God in all relationships." In the third section, the author shows how unceasing thinking can be turned into "an uninterrupted conversation with God."

The final chapter examines contemplation as the capacity to witness to the showing of the invisible world in the visible one. Nouwen notes: "A friend once gave me a beautiful photograph of a water lily. I asked him how he had been able to take such a splendid picture. With a smile he said, 'Well, I had to be very patient and very attentive. It was only after a few hours of compliments that the lily was willing to let me take her picture.' " This is a fine addition to the rich devotional literature of Henri J. M. Nouwen.