Sunday, December 15, 2013

Review: The Reed of God

I was returning from the chapel just now, having said my evening prayers in the quiet, just He and I alone.  And as I drove East out of the parking lot, I was listening to Andrea Bocelli’s Christmas CD.  The snow was gently falling outside when there, at the top of my windshield, I saw the full moon appear from between the clouds.  I always think of Mary when I see the moon, her (like it) being the reflection of the Son.  And then Bocelli began a duet with Reba McEntire, singing Blue Christmas together.  All sorts of thoughts went through my head, and a tear was shed at the beauty of the whole panorama in front of me, as I began to drive slowly through Plymouth and all its beautiful Christmas lights and decorated trees.
And I thought of this book.
I had never heard of Caryll Houselander until I read the small book of her meditations.  How could that be?  After reading those, I felt compelled to read more of her thoughts, and initially read this book, The Reed of God.  This book is a series of meditations on Mary’s life, and how it relates to our spiritual journey. 
That virginal quality which, for want of a better word, I call emptiness is the beginning of this contemplation.  It is not a formless emptiness, a void without meaning; on the contrary it has a shape, a form given to it by the purpose for which it is intended.
It is emptiness like the hollow in the reed, the narrow riftless emptiness, which can have only one destiny: to receive the piper’s breath and to utter the song that is in his heart.
She (Mary) was a reed through which the Eternal Love was to be piped as a shepherd’s song.
So begins Caryll’s thoughts on Mary’s purpose.  She moves on to ask us:  “Are we reed pipes?  Is He waiting to live lyrically through us?”  And she helps us contemplate who we are, and why: “It is the purpose for which something is made that decides the material which is used.  And what is our material?  Very seldom do we think about the mystery of all the years and all the people and all the gathered memories, both of individuals and races, which have made us individually what we are.  And what is our purpose; what shall we do with the material of which we are made?  We can accept and seize upon the fact that what we are at this moment, young or old, strong or weak, mild or passionate, beautiful or ugly, clever or stupid, is planned to be like that.  Whatever we are gives form to the emptiness in us which can only be filled by God, and which God is even now waiting to fill.
Yes, Caryll’s thoughts make one think about his purpose.
She uses lyrical words to beautifully describe the mystery of faith:
We shall be haunted by a nostalgia for divine things, by a homesickness for God which is not eased in this world even by the presence of God.
In surrendering to the Spirit and becoming the Bride of Life, she wed God to the human race and made the whole world pregnant with the life of Christ.  “I am come,” Christ said, “that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.”
The title of this blog is from Jesus’ words in St. Matthew: “Do Not Be Anxious” (Ch 6, v 25).  It’s important to note, however, the next words in Matthew:  “about your life.”  Jesus tells us that He will take care of us, and not to worry about our life.  Don’t I even take care of the flowers of the field, He asks?  I write this blog to remind myself --- and you --- not to worry about our own life, our own needs, our own desires, or our own happiness.  There are more important things for us to worry about, for Christ did not say our life would be without any worries, but DID show us what is important, what to focus on.  And what are those important things which we might be justified in worrying about?  I think Caryll expresses them well when she explains how we are to express love for our neighbor, as per the Great Commandment.  Men, she says, can (not) be made to love one another by legislation.  It was not for a crowd that He was dying, but for “each person” in the crowd.  Our purpose is not to help “the poor,” but “that poor person.”  Ms Houselander’s words explain so much better than I ever did what He meant by the words “Love one another,’ and she makes you feel the meaning.
I know it’s a little early to be considering such matters, but there is no doubt that this book will be on my Christmas list of presents next year.  There are so many deep thoughts contained in Ms Houselander’s words, they are worth reading over and over again, and opening the minds of others.          


  1. Tom, Caryll Houselander is my all time favorite author and The Reed of God is my all time favorite book. I re-read it every Advent and have it completely marked up because I love everything in it! So glad you read it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Huh. Why am I not surprised, Anne, that you find Ms Houselander so deep and insightful? If I'd have taken a moment to think on who might like this type of book, I think I would have put you near the top of the list. (Although I must remember that if I put your name on my Christmas list next year, I must not give you ANOTHER copy.)