When I was in high school the administration used to play music during the passing periods between classes as a way of helping students measure the time they had left to get to class. The song choices were moderated by the administration but they accepted the suggestions of students, naturally, most of the songs were of the teenage angst variety… over and over again. In their 2004 hit – that I still have memorized – “Welcome to My Life” Simple Plan sang the following lyrics memorized dripping with teenage angst: “Are you desperate to find something more/ Before your life is over?”
I think the song is a typical example of angst music; but I think there is a reason that such music resonates with the population. It voices the emptiness we feel within. Our existential angst is brought about by the expectation for something more. We notice that something is missing and we want more. The Church recognizes this reality and gives a season in which we can enter into this expectation and pray with it: Advent. Advent is the time of waiting and expectation in the liturgical life of the Church. It is a time of purification and waiting to be filled. This book speaks perfectly to this season and the emptiness or dissatisfaction that we experience in our lives.
I want to recommend a book to you this Advent. The book is called The Reed of God and was written in 1944 by an Englishwoman named Caryll Houslander. It’s a book about Mary and God; or rather a book about God through Mary. Houselander’s key statement about God is that our notion of Him is always in need of purification. Purification always involves loss, and thus “we must always be feeling the pain of loss,” because through such pain we realize that our concept of God is not God himself, or rather that God exceeds all our conceptions of Him. Houselander consistently uses the metaphor of Mary’s waiting, and seeking after Christ to illustrate this point. Mary accepts God’s invitation to “complete and absolute trust…without condition and without reservation.” She allows God to fill her emptiness with Himself, and thus bears God into the world. She does this despite her lack of knowledge of the future, despite misunderstandings, and despite the risk of losing everything.
When our concept of God is improved, that is, becomes more like to that which it signifies, our lives should necessarily change. For Houselander, the knowledge of God is extremely important, because we possess the “extraordinary power of changing ourselves into the likeness of the idols we make.” We must be purified of our idols so that we can become more what we already are – imago Dei. Houselander makes it clear that we will suffer either the loss of our idols or the loss of our truest nature. The former will lead eventually to joy from a true knowledge of God and of self, the latter to soul-rot.
For Houselander, a true knowledge of God is always borne of the Marian attitude of total trust and absolute surrender of the self. Without such a faith we will not be able to know the all-loving God but rather only a vindictive capricious caricature of God who behaves more like a spoiled child than a loving Father. Our fear of pain will cause us to avoid it all costs because we will fail to see God in the suffering of the world. The absolute surrender of Mary to the will of God allows her to know God because it places no limitations upon God. She trusts that every act of God “is the act of an infinitely loving Father.” To know God we must first recognize that he is beyond our knowledge and stand in awe at His deity.
Our emptiness or dissatisfaction with life, and the pain of loss we experience are in fact gifts of God’s mercy which show how we are orientated towards God himself. The gift of dissatisfaction points to the reality that we are called to an ever-deepening relationship with a God who surpasses every notion which we have of Him.
I recommend this book to all Christians who have asked themselves why the god they worship will not fill the emptiness within them.
 Houselander 134
 Houselander 35
 Houselander 130
 Houselander 47
 Isaiah 55:8, Proverbs 9:10