Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Form of Emptiness

THE REED OF GOD by Caryll Houselander
That virginal quality which, for want of a better word, I call emptiness is at 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.

It is emptiness like the hollow in the cup, shaped to receive water or wine.

It is emptiness like that of the bird's nest, built in a round warm ring to receive the little bird.

The pre-Advent emptiness of Our Lady's purposeful virginity was indeed like those three things.

She was a reed through which the Eternal Love was to be piped as a shepherd's song.

She was the flowerlike chalice into which the purest water of humanity was to be poured, mingled with wine, changed to the crimson blood of love, and lifted up in sacrifice.

She was the warm nest rounded to the shape of humanity to receive the Divine Little Bird...

It is the purpose for which something is made that decides the material which is used.

The chalice is made of pure gold because it must contain the Blood of Christ.

The bird's nest is made of scraps of soft down, leaves and feathers and twigs, because it must be a strong warm home for the young birds...

The material which God has found apt for it is human nature: blood, flesh, bone, salt, water, will, intellect.

It is impossible to say too often or too strongly that human nature, body and soul together, is the material for God's will in us...

Think again of the three symbols I have used for the virginal emptiness of Mary. These are each made from material which must undergo some experience to be made ready for its purpose.

The reed grows by the streams. It is the simplest of things, but it must be cut by the sharp knife, hollowed out, and the stops must be cut in it; it must be shaped and pierced before it can utter the shepherd's song. It is the narrowest emptiness in the world, but the little reed utters infinite music.

The chalice does not grow like the flower it resembles. It is made of gold; gold must be gathered from the water and the mud and hewn from the rock, it must be beaten by countless little blows that give the chalice of sacrifice its fitting beauty.

The twigs and fluff and leaves of the bird's nest are brought from all sorts of places, from wherever the brave careful mother alights, with fluttering but daring heart, to fetch them, from the distances and explorations that only the spread wings of love know. It is the shape of her breast the moulds the nest to its inviting roundness.

Thus it is with us -- we may be formed by the knife, pared down, cut to the least, to the minimum of our own being; we may be marked indelibly by a succession of strokes, blown from the gold-beater's hammer; or we may be shaped for our destiny by the love and tender devotion of a devoted family.

I don't know why no one has ever mentioned Caryll Houselander among all the wonderful Catholic writers that are quoted from so often. I have seen her mentioned only in Magnificat and every time that I have read an excerpt it has spoken right to my heart. If I had let myself go I could easily have put the entire book on this site. I had to stop myself from underlining practically everything in it. It is a wonderful contemplation of the Virgin Mary and, through her as always, we get a clearer and better look at her son, Jesus. The excerpt above says better than I can what sort of a writer and thinker she was. It is simple but provides many opportunities for our own contemplation.

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