Books are like friends. You get attached to them, and keep going back to the ones who tell you things you need to know.
On Sunday, four of us took a picnic out to the cliffs to enjoy the sea and the sunshine. We watched a sailboat sit for awhile for lack of wind, and it reminded me of Sheldon and Davy Vanauken’s fanciful plans for their “Grey Goose.” Together, my sister and I recounted for our friends the gist of the story of A Severe Mercy which was fun because she remembered details I’d forgotten.
I know some people who think the story is about two spoiled children. Maybe it is, but I still liked it from the first time I read it, fresh out of high school. Our discussion on Sunday inspired me to go back to it again for the umpteenth time, and now I’m enjoying it again. There’s nothing like revisiting words that delighted you before. This time, I can understand how it could be seen as a spoiled child’s story, but it is still a powerful account of love, faith, and grief, beautifully told. I don’t mind admitting that Sheldon’s way with words completely charms me.
Back at age fifteen or sixteen or so, I didn’t know what he meant when he said that beauty has an ache, a pang. I couldn’t follow all the British terms from their time in Oxford and friendship with C.S.Lewis. The years have increased my understanding and experience, and now I comprehend more of what he says. “Severe Mercy” was Lewis’ phrase in a letter between the two men, referring to the grief that deepened Sheldon’s faith and love for God.
Vanauken’s second book, Under the Mercy recounts more of his professor days in Lynchburg, VA after Davy died, and shares some papers he wrote in those days. I’ve frequently gone back to the chapter on “The Bachelor” because he writes so eloquently of the historical place in society and the dignity of the single person. He writes about feminism and political protests in DC, and eventually of his “crossing the English Channel” and becoming a Catholic. The second book is good, but doesn’t carry the immediacy of the first.
This is an excerpt from A Severe Mercy that has become part of my world-view:
…we have not always been or will not always be purely temporal creatures…we were created for eternity. Not only are we harried by time, we seem unable, despite a thousand generations, even to get used to. 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 proof, or at least a powerful suggestion, that eternity exists and is our home.