“[E]mptiness is the beginning of this contemplation.
It is not a formless emptiness, a void without meaning: on the contrary it has shape, a form given to it by the purpose for which it is intended.
It is the emptiness like the hollow in the reed…which can only have one destiny; to receive the piper’s breath and to utter the song that is in his heart.”
Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God
The Reed of God, by British mystic, artist, and philospher, Caryll Houselander, is 187 pages and was first published in 1944. I came across the writings of Houselander in a daily Catholic prayer book called The Magnificant, and was given this book as a gift. It is one of the most profoundly moving spiritual meditations I’ve ever read.
It is a short book, broken into four sections that emphasize the humanity of Jesus’ mother, Mary, through four of the major mysteries of her life: the Annunciation of her pregnancy, the Visitation of John’s mother, Elizabeth, the Birth of Jesus, and the Finding of the Child, Jesus in the temple. In these meditations are woven poetic tributes to both the human body and soul, and the beautiful significance of the environment, nature, and art to God’s Being. There is also much reflection on the benefits of silence, simplicity, and patience, especially with ourselves and God through all the seasons of mood, enlightenment, and life, itself.
Most resonant to me is Houselander’s contemplation on human restlessness and unease. She attributes this to the God in us seeking its source, and emphasizes all the idols we build to fill the emptiness when there is but one way to fill it and complete ourselves.
I’m in a spiritual book club where we read books of many faiths to discuss and seek out truths, and I have recommended this for our next selection. There is much in it that warrants discussion, whether the reader agrees with it or not. It is a decidedly Catholic book, and as a Catholic I gained much from it, but it might interest others outside of the faith to better understand our devotion to (not worship of) Mary, and to the role of art and nature in the church.
I feel like I’ve found a female C S Lewis, and The Reed of God is a book I will treasure and read often. For those interested in spiritual books or the Catholic faith, in particular, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.