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A Severe Mercy Paperback – May 26, 2009
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A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken, is a heart-rending love story described by its author as "the spiritual autobiography of a love rather than of the lovers." Vanauken chronicles the birth of a powerful pagan love borne out of the relationship he shares with his wife, Davy, and describes the growth of their relationship and the dreams that they share. As a symbol of their love, they name their dream schooner the Grey Goose, "for the grey goose, if its mate is killed flies on alone and never takes another."
While studying at Oxford, Sheldon and Davy develop a friendship with C.S. Lewis, under whose influence and with much intellectual scrutiny they accept the Christian doctrine. As their devotion to God intensifies, Sheldon realizes that he is no longer Davy's primary love--God is. Within this discovery begins a brewing jealousy.
Shortly after, Davy acquires a fatal illness. After her death Sheldon embarks on an intense experience of grief, "to find the meaning of it, taste the whole of it ... to learn from sorrow whatever it had to teach." Through painstaking reveries, he comes to discover the meaning of "a mercy as severe as death, a severity as merciful as love." He learns that her death "had these results: It brought me as nothing else could do to know and end my jealously of God. It saved her faith from assault. ...And it saved our love from perishing."
Replete with 18 letters from C.S. Lewis, A Severe Mercy addresses some of the universal questions that surround faith--the existence of God and the reasons behind tragedy. --Jacque Holthusen
“No brief review can do justice to the human depth of this book. It invites us to explore a beautiful dollhouse of love and to witness the destruction of a relation too exquisite to last.” (Washington Post)
“Here is a book for anyone who has truly loved another person.” (Christianity Today)
“[A] deep, uncompromising story about human and divine love.” (Los Angeles Times)
“A towering and noble work in its own right, wrought by a real craftsman . ..” (New Oxford Review)
“A gem of a book . . . delivers an extraordinary impact on the reader.” (Eternity)
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Top customer reviews
I became a Christian after many years of skepticism and doubt that this religion had anything to offer me.
However, I was to discover a God more than capable of handling my questions.
And this is what this book demonstrates through a beautiful story of love put to the ultimate test.
Believers and skeptics alike, read this book if you are wrestling with the big issues of life - our marvellous Creator offers you the same patient consideration he has offered to countless thousands before.
Author: Sheldon Vanauken
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.
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.