Best selling women spiritual writers are a rare breed. Rarer still are best selling women spiritual writers who are not nuns.
So I’ve always been grateful that as a novice I came across the writings of British laywoman Caryll Houselander. I’m thinking about her because I subscribe to the monthly, Give Us This Day (Liturgical Press) and in addition to a daily commentary on the scriptures, there is a daily reflection on a “saint.” And this week, Houselander is remembered on her death anniversary, Friday, Oct. 12, 1954.
I haven’t read her for many years and don’t know if I would be as enamored as I was at 18-years of age with The Reed of God or A Rocking Horse Catholic. Probably not, but I’m glad to see renewed interest in this eccentric mystic who according to writer Robert Ellsberg “chain-smoked, used salty language, had a taste for gin and was drawn like a magnet to those whom other found impossible or repulsive—neurotics, sinners, lonely hearts and other miserable people who bore the wounds of Christ.”
I am often asked, “Is Monasteries of the Heart what you imagined it to be or are there surprises?” And I have to humbly respond, “My biggest surprise, the thing I was not prepared for, is the depth of the spiritual conversations taking place on the web site among members of Monasteries of the Heart.”
It grieves me to think of how much wisdom has been lost because the church does not give much credence to the spirituality of the laity, especially its women. Now and then we lift up a Houselander or an Evelyn Underhill or a Dorothy Day (more for good works, though, than spirituality) but it’s almost accidental.
Celebrate Caryll Houselander then. Celebrate this prolific author, renowned spiritual director, talented artist and poet, this mystic who burned with love. But most of all continue this great laywoman’s legacy by trusting your experiences of God. Speak of them. Write of them. Discuss them with others.
“I am a drain pipe,” Houselander wrote. “God wants to pour words through me.” Like Houselander, God wants to pour words through you too.