I chose Houslander’s poetic The Reed of God, because many people mentioned how that book had touched them. It is a book about Mary, Jesus’ Mother and how we can claim her in simple yet profound ways as our teacher. Caryll makes Mary REAL. Yes, she’s a virgin, ever-holy, from an ancient world, and assumed into heaven, but to Caryll, Mary is someone we can imitate more easily than most saints. How little we know of Mary’s life details is a gift. What we have is essential in our walk toward holiness and pure love.
1) Mary reminds us we too are wed to the Holy Spirit, destined to be creative, employing with divine energy our unique gifts.
2) Her perpetual Virginity is a model of how to offer, wholly, our soul and body to be consumed with the fire of Love and changed into the flame of its glory. (In other words, virginity is something you “lose” through a sexual act, but something you can offer again and again through commitment to surrendering totally to God.
3) Mary shows we are all invited to “bear” Christ. She carried and birthed a divine human, into a sad, sweet world. We are called to re-birth our inner Christ and witness Christ being perpetually born in every single soul we meet. Just as the manger, with animal breath and the scent of manure in the air seems an unlikely place for GOD, our world’s darkest corners contain souls, like mangers, cradling CHRIST.
Most mystics and martyrs, while inspirational, appear hard to imitate. But Mary, simply and wholeheartedly obedient, models that it’s “merely” intimacy God asks of us: humbly carrying the Christ – God’s incarnate love – to others: allowing Christ to be FORMED, to grow, within us; simply with courage and love, witnessing the wounded and dying Christ-figures we meet daily. We DON’T have to fix anything, just be vigilant if we can lend a tender hand, as Mary, a lay person, did at Cana. In her natural human love she acknowledged the gift of the supernatural within her and because she “asked” the plain water of Cana was turned into wine – saving a celebration and symbolizing the sacrificial blood her son would shed. Jesus didn’t ask of Mary that she die a bloody death, only that she die to self and reply, “Be it done to me according to your will.”
Because we are (without exception in Houselander’s eyes) the Body of Christ, Mary’s guiding rule is two-fold. It helps us unite, to see that we are one in Christ, yet we are called to claim a personal and intimate life with Him. Mary had an intimacy with Christ like no one else’s. We can too. And she took on the yoke of a love which now unites us all.
The book looks at Mary through three strong symbols. Mary is the reed, hollow, through which the Eternal love was to be piped as a shepherd’s song. That music of Christ can so naturally be played by even a child. Mary is the flower-like chalice into which the water of humanity was to be poured, mingled with wine, changed to the crimson blood of love, and lifted up in sacrifice. Mary is the warm nest, rounded to the shape of humanity to receive the Divine Little Bird. She is the home, the shelter of Christ. She was nearby often even when he was preaching, and she was certainly there walking with him to his death and awaiting him in the upper room after he rose.
Some chapters look at qualities or concepts connected with Mary:
Emptiness, allowing the space for Christ to come to us.
Fiat (Mary’s promise to allow herself to be the instrument. Be it done to me…)
Advent – the seed planted, the waiting, the wondering, the excitement and the dis-ease of a big love growing inside our darkness.
Others are about moments in Christ’s life His being LOST (momentarily at 12 and momentarily to death). We too must look for him and we will find him exactly where HE needs to be. And IDOLS, how our well-meaning “seeking” turns us toward money, pleasure, ambition’s over-activity, perfectionism, and the projection and judgment of our unacknowledged failings onto others. The darkness which troubles us most is often a mirror of the inner work we need. Any obsession with the presence of God can be a shrinking from intimacy, a hardening rather than an emptying. She describes the idol of the harsh God, punitive and exacting nature, which allows us to judge others. AND “more popular today” (she writes just post war) the invented idol of a “convenient” God, who winks at our bad behavior; a vague, indefinite God whose not that upset as we “whittle away at the purity, and splendor and discipline of straight thinking, a God who is willing to humor us, accept our inattention and be grateful that we show up on Sunday.”
Just naming attributes of Caryll Houselander’s work and her view Mary as our teacher has been a joy.