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.