Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Lectio: A Severe Mercy

{recommended reading}

I've got to say off the bat, this book isn't exactly an upper.  It's sad, but absolutely brimming with beauty.  A Severe Mercy is a memoir, a romance, a tragedy, and a conversion story all at once.  Sheldon Vanauken met his future wife Davy during a Christmas break from college.  The story of their courtship seriously reads like a how-to guide for a loving, passionate, and fiercely loyal relationship; way better, in my opinion, than any modern magazine or even marriage-prep book could offer: money doesn't belong to either person exclusively, they agree to discuss, discuss, discuss things they don't see eye to eye on until they come to a conclusion, and there's no reason at all why marriage shouldn't mean total sharing.

For instance:

'Look,' we said.  'What is it that draws two people into closeness and love?  Of course there's the mystery of physical attraction, but beyond that it's the things they share.  We both love strawberries and ships and collies and poems and beauty, and all those things bind us together.  Those sharings just happened to be; but what we must do now is share everything.  Everything!  If one of us likes  anything, there must be something to like in it--and the other one must find it.  Every single thing that either of us likes.  That way we shall create a thousand strands, great and small, that will link us together.  Then we shall be so close that it would be impossible--unthinkable--for either of us to suppose that we could ever recreate such closeness with anyone else.  And our trust in each other will not only be based on love and loyalty but on the fact of a thousand sharings--a thousand strands twisted into something unbreakable.'

They write exquisite poems to each other, run through the grounds of Oxford together at night, and envison a wall, a "shining barrier," enclosing their love, not to keep it small and exclusive, but to guard it against division and conflict.  They even spend a period of time being secretly married, unable to wait for school to be over.  The depth of their love took my breath away.  For your reading pleasure:

What was remarkable, if not unique, about our love--our inloveness--was all we built into it, giving to it all our minds and devotion.  But beneath all the hard thought was the loveliness of the love itself, love so deep and clear that it almost broke our hearts with its passion and tenderness.

What makes Sheldon and Davy's love all the more amazing is that each awakens the other to new questions of Truth.  They begin their university years as avowed atheists (Sheldon frequently calls himself and his wife "pagans," with no self-consciousness, just honesty).  Slowly, though, their friendships and intellectual discussions with other students and, amazingly, C.S. Lewis (I know!) begin revealing something deeper than just this life: God Himself is revealed to them.  Amazing!  It's certainly a worthy journey, but it's a painful one, too.

You know the song "How He Loves Us?"  The first line is, "He is jealous for me."  I kept thinking of that line as I was writing this and remembering my reading experience.  What happens to these lovebirds is that as Davy's conversion begins, her husband, who's not quite on the same page yet, finds himself jealous of God, feeling like He's stealing her love.  It's such a human feeling, one that emerges from fire with the contentment of discovering that all love flows from Love Himself.

Sadly, Sheldon and Davy's love story is cut short on earth.  As I read, it was impossible not to imagine being in the same shoes, forced to say goodbye to my heart and wondering what God's will could possibly be.  I was actually scared.  What if that could happen to us?  The thing I took away, though, is that the Lord remakes a broken heart if you allow Him to pour His mercy and love over you.  And His mercy includes His will for you, bestowing the confidence that every happening in your life is an act of love.  Sheldon himself says that it's no easy task, and that in his loss, he experiences "a severity as merciful as love," hence the title.  Love isn't idolizing your spouse or putting him or her on the same level as God, but giving all thanks to Him for everything your beloved is.

You know what?  I take back what I said about this book being a downer.  It's sad, yes, but it's certainly not without hope, and absolutely not without immense love.  How can love, honest and romantic and faithful and stronger than death, do anything but lift your soul to Heaven?

Have any of you read A Severe Mercy?  I'd love to hear what you think!


  1. This is going on my reading list!!!

    1. Awesome; I'd be so glad to hear your opinion when you're done!

  2. I don't think I've ever read a more honestly glowing review of a book. I'm at once hesitant to become involved with something so deeply moving (I do, after all, have real-world obligations) and eager to find a quiet corner and begin the reading journey. About how long did it take you to read? Is A Severe Mercy something I can read in a day or week, or do I need a few months?

    1. You flatter me, Siobhan. Thank you so much! Any credit for my honesty goes straight to the book itself. That said, I read it over a few months, more because of a lack of time (I'm always reading too many things at once) than because I wanted an emotional distance. That didn't mean I wasn't a blubbering mess sometimes, though! I'd say, if you have a nice stretch of time and are okay with becoming emotionally invested, then go for it, and if not, you lose nothing by spreading things out a little more.



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