A reflection from Caryll Houselander:
A seed contains all the life and loveliness of the flower, but it contains it in a little hard black pip of a thing which even the glorious sun will not enliven unless it is buried under the earth. There must be a period of gestation before anything can flower.
If only those who suffer would be patient with their earthly humiliations and realize that Advent is not only the time of growth but also of darkness and hiding and waiting, they would trust, and trust rightly, that Christ is growing in their sorrow, and in due season all the fret and strain and tension of it will give place to a splendor of peace. (Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God, p. 36)
And what is our role in spreading the Good News and how are we to do it, we “sinners, wranglers, weaklings”? Caryll Houselander, in her down-to-earth way, gives us hope.
The ultimate miracle of Divine Love is this, that the life of the Risen Lord is given to us to give to one another. It is given to us through our human loves. It is no violation of our simple human nature. It is not something which must be cultivated through a lofty spirituality that only few could attain; it does not demand a way of life that is abnormal, or even unusual; it is not a specialized vocation. It is to be lived at home, at work, in any place, any circumstances. It is to be lived through our natural human relationships, through the people we know, the neighbors we see. It is given to us, if we will take it, literally into our own hands to give. It is the love of human lovers, of man and wife, of parent and child, of friend and friend.
It is through his Risen Life in us that Christ sends his love to the ends of the earth. That is why instead of startling the world into trembling adoration by manifesting his glory, he sent the woman who had been a sinner to carry the ineffable secret, and sent the two disciples who had been bewildered by their blind inability to reconcile the Scripture and Calvary, and sent the friend who denied him, to give his love to the world, and to give it as simply as a whispered secret or a loaf of bread. So is it that we, sinners, wranglers, weaklings, provided only that we love God, are sent to give the life of the Risen Christ to the whole world, through the daily bread of our human love. “It is not for you to know the times and the seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. Enough for you, that the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and you will receive strength from him; you are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem and throughout Judea, in Samaria, yes, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).
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.