Caryll Houselander

Mystic (1901-1954)
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Caryll Houselander, an English laywoman, had a definite sense of her vocation: to awaken others to the presence of Christ in the world. This conviction was implanted from her childhood by a series of mystical experiences that continued throughout her life. The most striking of these experiences occurred one day in her adulthood, while she stood on a crowded train in London. As she looked at the people around her, “quite suddenly I saw with my mind, but as vividly as a wonderful picture, Christ in them all . . . living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them.” When she left the train “it was the same . . . in every passerby, everywhere—Christ.” This vision lasted for several days and altered her life completely.  

Houselander supported herself by woodcarving and decorating churches. Later she wrote poetry and children’s books. Her true mission, however, consisted in her relationships with others—not just friends, but strangers, neurotics, friendless people whom others avoided. Simply through attention and friendship, she sought to awaken them to a sense of their own divine spark. Eventually her writing mission took over. During the Second World War she offered a message of consolation to those struggling with their faith, sharing the good news that Christ was truly present in the sufferings of the world. “We have to stretch Christ in us to fit the size of this war, the cross overshadowing the whole world.” Houselander died of breast cancer on October 12, 1954.  

“It is amazing to think that in heaven when everything is understood we shall keep on saying to one another ‘How astonishing that we should ever have doubted the mercy in it all.’” —Caryll Houselander 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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