Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Severe Mercy

A Severe Mercy has been my favorite book for a couple of years now. It was required reading for the British Literature course that I took in the tenth grade, and I wasn't expecting much. The fact that C.S. Lewis was mentioned on the back cover gave me a little bit of hope. (If you haven't noticed, I am an avid C.S. Lewis fan.) The first chapter was typical: a lot of descriptions. I was preparing myself to be very, very bored. But, let me tell you, after three pages of chapter two, I was hooked. Severe Mercy is the autobiography of Sheldon Vanauaken. It follows the story of him and his wife, Davy: their love story and their conversion. Their love story is fascinating, although they are unashamedly obsessed with the protection of their relationship about all else. And I mean, all else. Then they meet a group of Christians, and their lives are irrevocably changed. Sheldon and Davy both fight Christianity for a while, trying to come up with every possible logic that could refute it, but to no avail. During this time, Sheldon begins to correspond with C.S. Lewis. After addressing several of Sheldon's questions about Christianity in a letter, C.S. Lewis closes with, "But I think you are already in the meshes of the net! The Holy Spirit is after you. I doubt you'll get away!" And it's true. Sheldon and Davy do not get away. They become Christians. He realizes that in order to put Christ first, that must mean that his and Davy's love cannot be supreme, cannot be invincible, cannot be preeminent. C.S. Lewis tells Sheldon, "You have been treated with a severe mercy. You have been brought to see that you were jealous of God. So from US you have been led back to US AND GOD; it remains to go on to GOD AND US." The tragedy that follows their conversion is, indeed, a severe mercy. Of course, Sheldon and Davy's story is wonderful, but the theology is unlike any that I have ever seen in a biography. Here is just a glimpse:

"How strange that we cannot love time. It spoils our loveliest moments. Nothing quite comes up to expectations because of it. We alone: animals, so far as we can see, are unaware of time, untroubled. Time is their natural environment. Why do we sense that it is not ours? C. S. Lewis…asked how it was that I, as a product of a materialistic universe, was not at home there. 'Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always been, or would not always be, purely aquatic creatures?' Then, if we complain of time and take such joy in the seemingly timeless moment, what does that suggest? It suggests that we have not always been or will not always be purely temporal creatures. It suggest that we were created for eternity. Not only are we harried by time, we seem unable, despite a thousand generations, even to get used to it. We are always amazed at it – how fast it goes, how slowly it goes, how much of it is gone. Where, we cry, has the time gone? We aren’t adapted to it, not at home in it. If that is so, it may appear as a proof, or at least a powerful suggestion, that eternity exists and is our home. "

Sheldon Vanauken
from A Severe Mercy