"Clowning in Rome," by the late Dutch Catholic priest Henri Nouwen, has beenbrought back into print; readers interested in contemplation and prayer will rejoice. Thebook comprises four essays: on solitude, celibacy, prayer, andcontemplation. They merit reading not for their prose, which is ordinary,nor for their thematic unity, which is questionable, but for theiroccasional moments of uncommon insight.

Explaining celibacy, the aspect of the priesthood that most vexeslay people, Nouwen compares that vocation to another one, marriage,demonstrating that they are more similar than different and that eachneeds the example of the other. Nouwen makes certain aspects of the priesthood accessible: we could all use more solitude, or contemplation, and it helps to know how these disciplines function for their most dedicated practitioners.

There is, however, a distinctly 1970s sensibility at play, and time hasnot been kind to all of Father Nouwen's footnotes. The references tosocial science and human potential movements dates the otherwise simple power ofNouwen's thoughtful message.