Monday, October 21, 2013

31 Days of Books: A Severe Mercy

Title:  A Severe Mercy

Author:  Sheldon Vanauken

Published: 1977

Year I read it:  2012

One sentence summary:  Vanauken's autobiographical narrative of the deep love he and his wife developed; their adventures all around the world, leading them to Oxford; their journey into faith, with the help of Oxfordian friend, "Jack" Lewis; and of their loss, the severe mercy.

Interesting fact:  It contains 18 of Vanauken's letters from C. S. Lewis.

Three reasons to read it:

  • This is honest-to-goodness one of the best love stories I've ever read!  The depth, the romance produced from self-sacrifice (and common love for literature), is just astounding.  And it's so refreshing to hear a romance from the man's perspective!  Loved that beginning.
  • Oxford!  This book captures Oxford of the '50's - which really hasn't changed much.  See below for some of the best explanations of life in that University town.
  • The pain Vanauken goes through - and the faith with which he faces tragedy - are far more than "tear-jerking" or "heart-breaking."  None of those cliche's will do.  This book touches something far deeper.

One reason you maybe shouldn't:

  • It has very, very sad parts.
Great quotes:

Love is the final reality; and anyone who does not understand this, be he writer or sage, is a man flawed of wisdom.
We saw self as the ultimate danger to love, which it is.
Coming to England was like coming home, coming to a home half-remembered - but home.
"That's what Oxford is, a place to talk about everything..."
"This, you know, is a time of taking in--taking in friendship, conversation, gaiety, wisdom, knowledge, beauty, holiness--and later, well, there'll be a time of giving out... Now we must store up the strength, the riches all that Oxford had given us, to sustain us after.  She stood there, Oxford, like a mother to us all with her hands heaped with riches."
I tended, indeed, to feel that God Himself dwelt in Oxford, His holy city, where He could hear the bells.
He had been wont to despise emotions: girls were weak, emotions–tears– were weakness. But this morning he was thinking that being a great brain in a tower, nothing but brain, wouldn’t be much fun. No excitement, no dog to love, no joy in the blue sky– no feelings at all. But feelings– feelings are emotions! He was suddenly overwhelmed by the revelation that what makes life worth living is, precisely, the emotions. But then– this was awful!– maybe girls with their tears and laughter were getting more out of life. Shattering! He checked himself, showing one’s emotions was not the thing: having them was. Still, he was dizzy with the revelation. What is beauty but something is responded to with emotion? Courage, at least, is partly emotional. All the splendour of life. But if the best of life is, in fact, emotional, then one wanted the highest, the purest emotions: and that meant joy. Joy was the highest. How did one find joy? In books it was found in love– a great love… So if he wanted the heights of joy, he must have it, if he could find it, in great love. But in the books again, great joy through love always seemed go hand in hand with frightful pain. Still, he thought, looking out across the meadow, still, the joy would be worth the pain– if indeed, they went together. If there were a choice– and he suspected there was– a choice between, on the one hand, the heights and the depths and, on the other hand, some sort of safe, cautious middle way, he, for one, here and now chose the heights and the depths.

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