I discussed The Reed of God by the British writer and mystic, Caryll Houselander in my last post. It is a classic on the spirituality of advent with Mary as the focus. A word about Houselander might provide some encouragement about her mystical approach to spirituality and in advent in particular, an approach you and I can internalize.
Houselander was only seven years old when she was baptized Catholic as her mother pursued the same faith. Caryll developed into a devout Catholic until her teenage years when she became a rebellious young adult and shed anything to do with the faith. In other words, she became a bit of a scoundrel. She ran away from boarding school and indulged in drinking, smoking, cavorting with wild friends. Because her parents had divorced, she held a bitterness that led to psychological problems with moods and neuroticism. We might say today that she was bipolar.
I love the rascals of heaven. They give us all hope. Take Paul, the persecutor, Augustine, the philanderer, Dorothy Day, the crusty communist, and now Caryll Houselander, the rebel-turned-mystic. Trained in drawing and wood carving, Caryll returns home after her self-imposed exile and opens an art studio. Still, not quite back in the fold, she examines other faiths and is drawn to Russian orthodoxy by attending services in London’s Russian community. She also meets and falls deeply in love with a professional Russian spy who is said to be the model for Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Her world crashes when the spy leaves her for another woman. He is caught, tortured and executed by the Russians because of his spy work and, strangely enough, Houselander mystically unites with his sufferings.
Eventually, Houselander returns to Catholicism and makes her life a model of radical kindness ministering to victims of the London bombings in World War II, and to children suffering mental illnesses while volunteering to provide shelter to those left homeless from the incineration of bombs and artillery explosions. As her country hobbled on its knees feverishly reaching to recapture its freedom, “Caryll Houselander loved its children into health,” one doctor said of her.
The reed of God is Mary, the mother of God. Mary was hollowed out by simple goodness and as such she was found more innocent, more open, and more able to accept the Word of God. She took on God’s quest. She said, ‘yes’. A reed sings best when hollowed out.
Caryll Houselander was also hollowed out. In her youth, she tried to fill her wandering heart with artificial distractions, but later when she dug deeply into her soul and jettisoned these distractions, she turned into a soul of radical kindness. She became another reed of God. She gave Him room to grow.
To my Anonymous Angels: I would like you to comment on the following if you can. It helps all of us to share ideas.
—What are the ways I can become another reed of God?
—How can I hollow out and prepare more room for Him. How can I take Him in more completely?
As you reflect, I hope you will listen to the wonderful advent hymn, ‘O, Come Emmanuel’, which I am including here.