Wonderful Caryll Houselander writes:
As to your Lent . . . I can only tell you my own experience. A mass of good resolutions, I think, are apt to end up in disappointment and to make one depressed. Also direct fault-uprooting: it makes one concentrate too much on self, and that can be so depressing. The only resolution I have ever found that works is: “Whenever I want to think of myself, I will think of God.” Now, this does not mean, “I will make a long meditation on God,” but just some short sharp answer, so to speak, to my thought of self, in God. For example:
“I am lonely, misunderstood, etc.”
“The loneliness of Christ at his trial; the misunderstanding even of his closest friends.”
“I have made a fool of myself.”
“Christ mocked–he felt it; he put the mocking first in foretelling his Passion–‘The Son of Man shall be mocked, etc.’–made a fool of, before all whom he loved.”
“I can’t go on, unhelped.”
“Christ couldn’t. He couldn’t carry the cross without help; he was grateful for human sympathy–Mary Magdalene–his words on that occasion–other examples as they suggest themselves–just pictures that flash through the mind.” This practice becomes a habit, and it is the habit which has saved me from despair! . . .
Different people have different approaches to Christ. He has become all things–infant, child, man–so that we all can approach him in the way easiest for us. The best is to use that way to our heart’s content, and not to trouble about any other.
I was delighted when I discovered Caryll Houselander. I found her to be a woman of great honesty about herself and great faith in God. Here is an excerpt from a letter she wrote, describing how she dealt with great fear as she served as an air raid warden in England during World War I. Perhaps I’ve already shared it, but it’s worth sharing again. She offers an approach that I think we can apply to many, if not all, of the challenging emotions we can experience:
During the war I was simply terrified by air raids, and it was my lot to be in every one that happened in London–sometimes on the roofs of these flats, sometimes in the hospital. . . I tried to build up my courage by reason and prayer, etc. Then one day I realized quite suddenly: As long as I try not to be afraid I shall be worse, and I shall show it one day and break; what God is asking of me, to do for suffering humanity, is to be afraid, to accept it and put up with it, as one has to put up with pain (if it’s not druggable) or anything else. I am not going to get out of any of the suffering. From the time the siren goes until the All Clear, I am going to be simply frightened stiff, and that’s what I’ve got to do for the world–offer that to God, because it is that and nothing else which he asks of me.
“To a young child home stands for God. In it he learns to see and touch the gifts of God. If his mother is wise she will make his home beautiful. She will copy the world’s creator and make a tiny new Eden. She will bring in flowers and give the child animals and feed the birds. The food on the table will be clean and simple and good. It will not only taste nice, it will look nice. From all this the child will learn naturally that God did not make the hideous travesty that we have made of created things.” (Caryll Houselander, The Mother of Christ)
Sorry for not posting in awhile. God’s will was manifest in my life in unexpected events. . .
In praying for the people in Japan, I was reminded of this pertinent perspective from Caryll Houselander:
It struck me last night that many people are increasing their fear by thinking in crowds, i.e. they think of hundreds and thousands suffering etc., whilst the fact is, God is thinking of each one of us separately, and when–say–a hundred or a million are suffering, it is God who has each one separately in His own hands and is Himself measuring what each one can take, and to each one He is giving His illimitable love. This thought, though obvious, consoles me a lot . . .
Advent, like winter, is a time of hiddenness and darkness. The leaves are stripped from the trees, and the trees look dead. We know life is hid within them, but it’s hard to tell. One can only have hope if you remember Spring is coming. The same is true for us. We must have faith in the middle of the darkness.
Caryll Houselander, describing Advent, writes:
“It is a time of darkness, of faith. We shall not see Christ’s radiance in our lives yet: it is still hidden in our darkness; nevertheless, we must believe that he is growing in our lives; we must believe it so firmly that we cannot help relating everything, literally everything, to this almost incredible reality.” (Reed of God, p. 29)
I’m fairly sleep deprived with a lot “on my plate” at the moment, and actually have had a lot on my plate for over a year–not just a lot to do, but am dealing with a lot of major things that I can’t really go into here. That can easily kick up anxiety in me. My tendency then is to get anxious about being anxious. I mean, I do my best to surrender it all to God, but inevitably the feelings of anxiety are still there, and then I get anxious: am I not surrendering enough, etc. Soooo that brought to my mind two things: 1) my spiritual director’s “mantra” to me: “Don’t be afraid of being afraid,” which I could now rephrase: “Don’t be anxious about being anxious,” and 2) what Caryll Houselander wrote about dealing with her fear and anxiety during WWII which I’ve posted here.
Something else I’ve tried to do (when I remember!) is to offer up my “suffering” of fear or anxiety or whatever. It is a suffering for sure, not to be wasted.
On this Saturday, Mary’s day, I want to share this beautiful excerpt from one of Caryll Houselander’s letters (quoted in Magnificat today):
Your own troubles are really very sad indeed; I do feel very deeply for you. It certainly seems that prayer is the only help–that and taking each trial separately, trying not to look miles ahead with the overwhelming picture of years of succeeding crises to weigh you down. Prayer does bring such amazing answers that it is reasonable to hope that every separate crisis may be the last: and happiness may come very suddenly, when you least expect it . . .
Do you find help from the rosary? I find just holding on to it, even, helps. Of course, some would say that is mere superstition, but it isn’t if it symbolizes holding on to God, as it does for me. I have been visiting a girl once a week for a doctor; the girl was a baffling nerve case. She used to have about three attacks a day resembling acute attacks of Saint Vitus’ dance, and followed by palpitations of so violent a nature that the doctors marveled that her heart could stand up to it . . . She had been previously two years in hospital and had seen every specialist, but no one could diagnose her case and she just went on getting worse. She had no religion, and her only reaction to God–a very vague idea to her–was fear and aversion.
I gave her a rosary and told her to try to say something with it in her hand–her own prayer–or say nothing, but mean to hold on to God. From the hour she took the rosary into her hand she has been better, and is now almost cured. . . . Her mind has flowered too, literally changed from a narrow self-obsessed mind to a big, objective, clever and loving one.
The verse for the Canticle of Zechariah in Morning Prayer this morning is: “The world will persecute you, but have courage, I have overcome the world, alleluia.” I began to think: “How are we to overcome the world? How did Christ overcome the world?” The answer that sprang immediately to my mind–and which I trust came from the Holy Spirit–was “By love.” He, and we, conquere by love. So often, I think, other plans and ideas for overcoming the world spring to our minds, but we must carefully test from where they come, for if they are not underpinned and motivated by love, their source is probably not God. Perhaps they come from ourselves or from our Enemy. A story comes to mind from a book I am currently reading, Evidence Not Seen, A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II. It is the autobiography of Darlene Deibler Rose, a young American bride, who with her husband went as missionaries to Dutch New Guinea shortly before WWII. She and her husband were interred in separate Japanese concentration camps. She suffered under horrific conditions and oppressors. Her husband died. Yet her faith remained strong despite her suffering. The story that came to mind has to do with her relationship with the Japanese commander of her camp who would beat the women savagely for any infraction. Many days she had to struggle internally to obey Jesus’ command to love our enemies. One day she was called into his office. She boldly asked if she could have permission to talk with him, which he granted. She began to witness to him of Christ’s place in her life, ending with: “He died for you, Mr. Yamaji, and He puts love in our hearts–even for those who are our enemies. That’s why I don’t hate you, Mr. Yamaji. Maybe God brought me to this place and this time to tell you He loves you.” She continues in her book, “With tears running down his cheeks, he rose hastily and went into his bedroom, closing the door. I could hear him blowing his nose and knew he was still crying.”
This all brought to mind an excerpt from a letter written by Caryll Houselander, a contemporary of Darlene, at the beginning of World War II. She, too, was dealing with the suffering of many. She wrote:
When the first days of this agony [WWII] are over, it is going to lead on from suffering to suffering in every way, fear, loss, death–one can’t bear to think of it. Our work is to keep alive, a deep constant awareness of the living love of God, to be, as never before contemplatives of Christ in ourselves and in one another. To keep His passion before us and to keep our faith in His love, never allowing the despair and pessimism which must sweep many hearts.
. . . last September Our Lord told me that He wished that I would look at Him much more in people, that He would like to be loved and reverenced more in people and “discovered” and recognized even in very unlikely people. He would like people to be told and shown “their glory”–which of course is Himself. (Caryll Houselander quoted in That Divine Eccentric by Maisie Ward)
That quote of Caryll’s came to mind this morning when we sang this line from a song during morning prayer: “You have illumined our spirit and Your eternal light is reflected everywhere so that in that light man might discover true beauty and all become luminous.” (St. Gregory Nazianzen) How else can we see the true beauty in each other except by His illumining our spirits? There are many gifts that the Holy Spirit gives, but I believe this is the greatest: to love and reverence each other (“even very unlikely people”) for their worth in Christ, to see “true beauty” in each other. And some times–maybe most of the time–that means seeing that “true beauty” in ourselves. Come, Holy Spirit, and enkindle the hearts of Your faithful . . .