“November 26, 1941
I do not know how to thank you and Sheila enough for your wonderful kindness in offering me sanctuary in your flat…
I hope to solve the problem [of getting my writing done] by wresting one free day now, as, if I get into the Censorship, no one will know when that day is. It seems to me that somhow or other we ought to be strong-minded enough to work in one’s home unassailed, but it is a great problem. Actually, even if one can esacpe in body, one’s mind remains guilt-obsessed, accussing and restless, haunted by tottering old laides, subversice and oversensitive youths, frustrated geniuses, spineless adolescents, dying priests, doubting Anglican clergymen, repressed Catholic nuns, nearasthenic nurses, and the uncountable multitudes of weeping free-lance virgins. No four walls, alas, can remove their loneliness and restlessness and the monotony of their lives from the stricken conscience. Yet in truth, I think it is likelly that one does them more harm than good by sympathy, and that the right thing to do is to steel the heart.
I truly believe that the best way to benefit humanity is to make faces in the bus–slightly mad faces, or puttings out of the tongue suddenly at the person opposite. Think of the thrill that gives to countless uneventful lives to whom nothing ever happens. They can tell everyone for weeks that they saw a mad woman on the bus, and they can exaggerate this to almost any extent. This form of charity can be practiced on the way to work.”
—Caryll Houselander, in a letter to Archie Campbell Murdoch, a friend and potential convert.
From The Letters of Caryll Houselander: Her Spiritual Legacy, ed. by Maisie Ward (somewhat hard to find: I received my copy as a gift).
Caryll (1901-1954) is a dear, dear, Companion–a wonderful spiritual writer whom I urge you to read widely.
Yesterday I received another gift: a framed portrait of Caryll. I immediately hung it on a nail that mysteriously happened already to be stuck into the wall, as if awaiting this very appurtenance, above my desk.
A fellow informally consecrated laywoman, convert and childless writer who was known to take a glass of whiskey, swear, smoke, and make a snide comment or two, Caryll was deeply devoted to Christ, suffered greatly, and was beloved by traumatized children and the mentally unbalanced. My fondest wish is that someone open her cause for canonization.
I can hardly think of a better person, outside of Flannery O’Connor, to gaze down upon me as I work. I am going to pray that she effect a miracle in me–which at this point would be a decent night’s sleep.
Blessed Solemnity of St. John the Baptist! Christ must increase, and we must decrease.
Apologies for typos in original post and thanks to Nona for calling them to my attention. There may still be a few. Forgive me.
13 Replies to “CHARITY, CARYLL HOUSELANDER STYLE”
Appurtenance– what a lovely new word to me. Thank you!
Ha, I had the word rattling about in the back of my mind, couldn’t figure out how to word the sentence the way I wanted it, looked up the definition in the dictionary–and am still not sure I used it correctly! But we definitely want “appurtenance” in our vocabulary. Thanks, Katie!
I still pray for you every day and will pray for your sleep since I could do with some too! Be blessed and enfolded in Jesus’ most sacred and loving heart!
Oh Barbara, thank you from the bottom of my heart on this Feast of HIS Sacred Heart…sometimes I wake up rested and calm for no apparent reason, and I always think–Oh. Someone prayed for me…I will hold you in my own night-time prayers.
“Typos”, no problem. My life is full of “typos”. When is your next book coming out? I am currently reading THE SPIRITUALITY OF JONAH, by Paul Murray OP. Blessings
Oh this looks good, the book: A Journey with Jonah: The Spirituality of Bewilderment. “The story of Jonah is one of divine humor and of paradox, and Murray is an engaging and entertaining guide to the narrative.” Personally I so identify with a guy who goes and sits in a hut and sulks, pouting “I might as well die” when asked to carry out the very unreasonable will of God and try to save people who don’t “deserve” it…
Next book: we shall see. Contemplating! Thanks for asking.
I love Flannery and Caryll too – and beside them on my bookshelf and in my admiration, are the beautiful writings of Heather King!
I stumbled upon this post during the umpteenth hour of trying to solve all world problems in my mind today and what a delight to have something knock all of my grandiose ideas off their lofty feet. I can start the day now. Thank you Caryll & Heather…
Screenwrite a movie about her?
Oh Catherine I, too, have been very much caught up in my thoughts…imaginary conversations…STATING MY CASE…I come back again and again to the life, peregrinations, and teachings of Christ. What did HE do? Healed people and cast out demons…so how can I best position myself to be able in my tiny, often misguided way, to do that for others?…Probably not by trying to “set everyone straight”…Thank the good Lord above that we have people like Flannery and Caryll to illuminate the path, and to walk with us…I once thought of going to England and sort of “following” Caryll…revisiting the places where she lived, suffered, wrote, went to Mass…obviously she is very much alive in the hearts and minds of many…
Thank you for “turning me on” to CARYLL HOUSELANDER! I have read a lot of her work and recommend her to so many now. Because of you.
I was so happy to hear you have received a portrait of Caryll Houselander. Thank you
for introducing me to her writings. I am doing the same as the previous post noted, reading as many of her works that I can get my hands on. She definitely speaks to my heart and speaks of the path God has called so many of us to follow. I love your reflections and all the quiet saints you introduce us to.
God bless you Heather ad I will pray that the Lord restores your restful nights soon.
Mary Jane MacNeil, Nova Scotia,Canada
Oh fantastic, Mary Jane, I’m so glad to have you as a reader and just as glad to know that you are reading as much Caryll Houselander as you can! I think I should make her the patron saint of my blog…a lot of people start, I think, with The Reed of God and/or A Rocking Horse Catholic. Orbis also has a collection of her Essential Writings as part of their Spiritual Masters series–but you’ll find your way on your own. In this climate of non-stop ideological and culture wars, I cling ever more to the Gospels, the Eucharist and writers like Caryll, who keep us very close to the suffering Christ. Plus she has a sense of humor–an element that is also sorely lacking these days! Bless you up there in beautiful Nova Scotia–
“My fondest wish is that someone open her Cause for canonization.” Yes, indeed! I couldn’t agree more! You know, I’ve been looking around for a framed or frameable portrait of Caryll for the longest time. Any idea where I might find one? I hope to visit England some time in 2023, maybe the spring, to pray at her grave at SS. Peter & Paul Churchyard, Ellesborough, Wycombe District, Buckinghamshire, for the purpose of whispering the possibility of canonization to her and others. I am now reading everything I can by and about Caryll. Thank you do much for your marvelous contribution! Into ’23 and beyond, I hope to have lots more time to live the urban contemplative life among the lost and broken of the City of New York and deepen my friendship with this holy and amazing woman, following my “retirement” on my 71st birthday 12/11/22. Just now wrapping up my work as a seminary spiritual director and very much looking forward to the next stretch of road ahead. God bless you and your own Caryll adventure!
Oh Fr. Raymond, how interesting that you should ask about a framed portrait of Caryll–I’m traveling at the moment, but several months ago a young priest friend sent me THE VERY THING–maybe 18 x 24, framed–and it is hanging above my desk! There seems to me only one portrait of Caryll (she’s like Emily Dickinson)–black and white, with the straight bangs, a kind of dark suit jacket, and the glasses, one eye mysteriously in shade. Anyway, I’m going to ask him where he got it and will report back to you. This is fantastic that you are visiting the site where our Beloved Friend was laid to rest in order to whisper the hope/possibility of canonization. I thoroughly believe in bringing our own body and blood to such sacred sites and there laying down our intentions. So many of us would deeply welcome a contemporary lay saint who was human, suffered terribly from anxiety, occasionally swore, suffered from scruples, attended daily Mass and weekly Confession–a straight=up by-the-book Catholic who had a huge heart (as any straight-up, by-the-book Catholic damn well should!) for the poor, the broken, the insufferable, those who waste your time…Anyway, I’m so glad to know of you–do you know of the NE Encounter that takes place each year, Feb 16-19 I think in 2023, in Chelsea? I’ve been invited to speak on a panel about an upcoming book by the late Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, ANOTHER incredible human being, priest, thinker, theologian who suffered deeply and more or less relentlessly and whose cause for canonization I would also support 1 million per cent–and will therefore be in town a few days. Happy day after Thanksgiving!