Other loves may sink and settle, other loves may loose and slack,
But I wander like a minstrel with a harp upon my back,
Though the harp be on my bosom, though I finger and I fret,
Still, my hope is all before me; for I cannot play it yet.
In your strings is hid a music that no hand hath e’er let fall,
In your soul is sealed a pleasure that you have not known at all;
Pleasure subtle as your spirit, strange and slender as your frame,
Fiercer than the pain that folds you, softer than your sorrow’s name.
Not as mine, my soul’s annointed, not as mine the rude and light
Easy mirth of many faces, swaggering pride of song and fight;
Something stranger, something sweeter, something waiting you afar,
Secret as your stricken senses, magic as your sorrows are.
But on this, God’s harp supernal, stretched but to be stricken once,
Hoary time is a beginner, Life a bungler, Death a dunce.
But I will not fear to match them – no by God, I will not fear,
I will learn you, I will play you and the stars stand still to hear.
One word more: This love of our neighbour is the only door out of the dungeon of self, where we mope and mow, striking sparks, and rubbing phosphorescences out of the walls, and blowing our own breath in our own nostrils, instead of issuing to the fair sunlight of God, the sweet winds of the universe. The man thinks his consciousness is himself; whereas his life consisteth in the inbreathing of God, and the consciousness of the universe of truth. To have himself, to know himself, to enjoy himself, he calls life; whereas, if he would forget himself, tenfold would be his life in God and his neighbours. The region of man’s life is a spiritual region. God, his friends, his neighbours, his brothers all, is the wide world in which alone his spirit can find room. Himself is his dungeon. If he feels it not now, he will yet feel it one day—feel it as a living soul would feel being prisoned in a dead body, wrapped in sevenfold cerements, and buried in a stone-ribbed vault within the last ripple of the sound of the chanting people in the church above. His life is not in knowing that he lives, but in loving all forms of life. He is made for the All, for God, who is the All, is his life. And the essential joy of his life lies abroad in the liberty of the All. His delights, like those of the Ideal Wisdom, are with the sons of men. His health is in the body of which the Son of Man is the head. The whole region of life is open to him—nay, he must live in it or perish.
~George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons
From George MacDonald’s lecture on ‘King Lear,’ regarding Cordelia’s response when asked to declare her love for her father in
order to inherit a portion of his kingdom:
“She loved her father far too much to be able to tell it out in that fashion. Even the best things she could say would have been as nothing compared with their eager protestations. Love is not to be measured by a dictionary. Love is holy, and loving hearts cannot lay themselves out for the asking. We don’t want to hear our children speak of their love; the look, the manner, the action–these are the language of the heart.”
– George MacDonald
I just finished a new read of Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy, and it is hard to sieze upon the right words to describe the feeling impressed upon me… It is a story about love, strength, courage, loyalty, beauty, goodness, and hope, I think. I am impressed by a couple of points.
- The depth of their thought and idealism, even as pagans (or especially so), and their willingness and strength to uphold the standards and ideals they decided on. I feel that their story is a beautiful example of how love can be nurtured, guarded and checked, so that it may flourish. I think if more of us followed in their example, we too would have a love so large.
- An obvious distinction: that love worshipped for its own sake, as a god, on its own, is not a full or complete good, and therefore not good enough to be called a “god.” Even the fact that their jealousy for their love made them seek solitude, or reject having children shows me that they didn’t understand or appreciate the good of having other people in their lives. A fact I think they would have been able to observe in hindsight, and which they did about friends, at least. I don’t know if they were ever able to appreciate what they had lost out on in not having children.
- I think that the search for beauty, completeness or total fulfillment, timelessness and home are deep in the heart of all of us. And when we see something good or true or beautiful, it is natural that we should want it, and think we should pursue it. But interestingly enough, the way God has designed this life is such that we must not seek first these pleasures and fruits, and if we do, we find we do not actually get the thing we wanted. So we are instructed that we must not go straight for the shining jewel in the cave of wonders, we must find another, duller looking object. We are told seek first the kingdom of God, and that we must first learn the lessons on what he is teaching us is good, right, true, and pure. And if we do this, then – all these “good” things shall be added unto us. But it is a paradoxical sort of thing, we desire beauty, and yet He knows that first we must learn to be good. Somehow we cannot have or appreciate or even fully enjoy these things, until we learn about goodness first.
- I loved Lewis’s final counsel to Van; it was so right, so complete, and so good. To seek eternal beauty, and an “endless” love is not, somehow given to us. And yet something of what they achieved was so beautiful – a unity that is truly rare and priceless. I was proud of Van for being strong enough and dedicated to truth enough to receive it, as from a brother and a father in Christ.
This was a beautiful book, and a truly inspiring journey, both times I read it. It was not perfect, but it was good, and it brought thoughts into my world that I hadn’t encountered before. I hope anyone looking to find a picture of beauty, unity, strength, love, learning, growth, courage and hope will read this book. There are many poignant and beautiful moments scattered throughout, and the correspondence with Lewis is wonderful and insightful.
“O God of man, my heart would worship all
My fellow men, the flashes from thy fire;
Them in good sooth my lofty kindred call,
Born of the same one heart, the perfect sire;
Love of my kind alone can set me free;
Help me to welcome all that come to me,
Not close my doors and dream solitude liberty!”
A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul
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