The Reed of God. Every Advent for some time I have taken time to read the book, The Reed of God, by Caryll Houselander. The book in many ways comes out of a challenge she was given as a little girl. “But even if I faced a blank future shackled with respectability, it was still impossible to imagine Our Lady doing anything I would do, for the very simple reason that I simply could not imagine her doing anything at all.” And maybe that is why I love the book so much. Maybe it is the case that I love the book because it helps me to think of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a real woman, living in this life, answering yes to God’s call in the midst of a life filled with joys and sorrows, successes and deep challenges. We know from the bible that the life of Mary was not an easy one. Even after her amazing fiat, Mary’s life still had more than its fair share of deep sorrows and pain. There is a reason one of the titles of Mary is Our Lady of Sorrows.
But it is not just during advent that one can take time to read The Reed of God. It is appropriate any time. But at the same time, Mary is the key figure during the season of Advent. As Houselander takes us on the journey to better understand Mary, to see her not as a plastic statue, but rather as one who lived life in search of God, seeking to do His will, something that is indeed available to all of us.
The book is divided into four parts, and each part has a few chapters, started not with a number, but rather with a title. So, as you read through the commentaries, you might be confused that Part One, or Part Two comes up more than once. But the titles prepare the reader well, I think, to see the points that Houselander is trying to raise. What’s more, the division of the parts, with their title for each section does have a logic of its own.
Buy the Book if you can
I would encourage you to read the book. And while there are many places to buy books, and that choice is yours, let me recommend Pauline Press. (Those sisters are amazing!) It is still pretty easy to access. But even if you cannot, you can still get a sense of the commentaries by listening to them. Below are the commentaries available thus far. As I finish a new one, it will be added to the Section below.
The Reed of God Book Sections
Commentary on The Reed of God – Introduction. “When we are attracted to a particular saint it is usually the little human details which attract us.” Isn’t this the truth? My patron saint, Martin de Porres became first appealing to me when I learned that he did not always do what his mother wanted (he gave away money his mother gave him to buy food). The story of mice in the convent and Martin talking with them (even if it is not true), helped me, one who loves animals, to see that I could too love God just like Martin loved God’s creation. In this Introduction, Houselander lays out the reasons for the book. Given that it has been around for decades, printed and reprinted, others have found value in it. I hope you do too.
Commentary on The Reed of God – Part One: Emptiness. We live in a world with a lot of noise. And yet Houselander tells us to being by recognizing the value of emptiness. Emptiness. The first chapter of Houselander’s book states that emptiness is the beginning of contemplation. See, when we consider a reed, we recognize that a reed has a hollow emptiness. It is this emptiness that makes a musical reed produce beautiful music. Nonetheless, it is empty.
Commentary on The Reed of God – Part One: Fiat. Let it be done. In America today we are all about being able to decide everything for ourselves. And yet the spiritual life begins with something quite different. It begins with the idea that what we really need is to unite our will with the Will of God. We need to commit to doing what God wants us to do. Houselander admits the difficulty with this. “The world has set up a new set of beatitudes. They run something like this: “Blessed are the comfortably well off, the cheerful, the highly respected. Blessed are the flattered. Blessed are those who are bored for a good salary on six days in the week and can overeat on the seventh. Blessed are those who are satisfied by the Beverage plan and are always willing to compromise; blessed are they when all men respect their rights as citizens and forget that they are men for their reward will not be very great but they will never be unduly disturbed and they will never disturb the complacency of others.””
Commentary on The Reed of God – Part One: Advent. Mary is a key figure of Advent. As a Dominican, I pray the rosary every day. But there is still something wonderful about encountering Mary anew during the season of Advent. There is the young woman who encounters the angel and says yes to God, not because of knowledge (she first asks how what will happen to her is even possible) but through faith. And then there is the appearance of Mary at Guadalupe, and the celebration of the ordinary man who became the one who performed something extraordinary.
Commentary on The Reed of God – Part One: Et Homo Factus Est. The celebration of the Incarnation is the celebration of the Resurrection. The New Life of the Resurrection became real when the Word became flesh in the Incarnation. And so in the waiting for the Incarnation we are waiting as well for the Resurrection, seeking the confirmation of our own salvation by the unbelievable and unimaginable generosity of our God.
Commentary on The Reed of God – Part Two: Fugue. When Mary utters her fiat, and when Christ prefers the will of the Father, we see how their willingness to surrender to the Father changes us. Despite our sin we can become holy, not because of our working harder, seeking to earn it, but because of the bookended surrenders that both made our new and transformed life possible.
Commentary on The Reed of God – Part Two: Et Verbum Caro Factum Est. To believe in the Incarnation is to believe that Jesus is always present, to believe there is never a time or a place where God is not present. And our lives are such that our task is to see and view the holiness everyone is called to exercise in their lives. But it is not that we do the holy things only on Sundays, and the non-holy things every other day of the week. The spiritual life is not just lived on Sundays for a limited time, and the worldly, material things at every other time. No, we go to Church on Sundays in order to sanctify all the other good aspects of our lives.
Commentary on The Reed of God – Part 3: The Lost Child. The Lost Child. Our lives are the perpetual Advent in a way, waiting upon Jesus to come into our hearts, just as we think of how best to celebrate that great moment two thousand years ago when we found the baby Jesus in the arms of the Blessed Virgin. Whatever you do to prepare for Christmas, do not forget the most important preparation is to prepare your heart for the coming of the Lord Jesus into us.
Commentary on The Reed of God – Part 3: Idol. Idol. Our lives are the perpetual Advent in a way, waiting upon Jesus to come into our hearts, just as we think of how best to celebrate that great moment two thousand years ago when we found the baby Jesus in the arms of the Blessed Virgin. Whatever you do to prepare for Christmas, do not forget the most important preparation is to prepare your heart for the coming of the Lord Jesus into us.
Commentary on The Reed of God – Part 4: Our Lady’s Seeking. Our Lady’s Seeking. How many times did Our Lady seek her son? There was, of course, that time in the temple, but what of other times? How about this time? “When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”” She sought out her son when his reply was hardly what we might first consider.