There's not much clowning and not enough Roman flavor in this quartet of meditations (originally lectures given at the North American College), but otherwise it's an attractive little book. Nouwen, a Belgian priest now thoroughly Americanized, seizes on clowns as anti-heroic religious symbols, the incarnation of humility, of Christian ""uselessness"" and nakedness before God. In a world where violence and oppression hold the center stage (Nouwen writes from the Rome of the Red Brigade and the Aldo Moro kidnapping), lovers of solitude, celibacy, and contemplative prayer provide a sort of sublime comic relief. Religious clowning, in this dehumanized environment, becomes prophetic witness. For example, the silent contemplative makes nature, time, and all human activity transparent to the presence of divinity. And the celibate reflects the limits of human relationships, the inviolable innner sanctum of all persons. This is all very well; it's just too bad Nouwen couldn't have evoked more fully the city of Rome (or any flesh-and-blood part of the world) as a base for his often abstract flights into spirituality, that he couldn't have been a little looser and freer-less of the preacher, more of the clown.