Today is a quiet day, the sort of which I have to be intentional about because of my life in general. I work in a busy sandwich shop, and there are usually long lines of hungry folks, so there’s the pressure of getting them to their food in a timely fashion. I’m also involved with other things, areas of ministry, etc, and if i’m not careful, I can just live in a hurry.
I bring to you a review of two good books, both of which I finished just recently. I skimmed through them again this morning to refresh my memory, and found myself wanting to reread them in their entirety, they are that good.
To be honest, I found these books, on account of the writing style, a bit hard to read. I have other friends who’ve shared the same struggle. They are partially autobiography, with excerpts of letters both sent and received from the author and his friends, the most notable being C.S. Lewis. The sequel tends to jump around a bit which makes it a bit more difficult to read.
But THESE BOOKS MUST BE READ! And here’s why: I’ll start off with A Severe Mercy
The story begins of a young couple who fell in love over a shared love of the sea, poetry and the pain of beauty. I liked them immediately for this 🙂 In a quest to experience the ultimate inloveness (which is more than just being in love), they put safeguards in place. Separateness, they decided, was the worst enemy to inloveness and so they determined to experience everything together. They chose to read the same books, enjoy the same hobbies and music because sharing was union. And these thousand little threads of togetherness were to bind them tightly together. They even decided that when one died, the other would as well, completing the Long Dive together. This was their Shining Barrier, against which nothing could come to separate them. They dreamed of sailing the world in their boat, the Grey Goose, and adventuring together.
They made it to Oxford where they encountered C.S. Lewis and eventually God. Through a group of vibrant, thoughtful Christians, they decided to study Christianity. I enjoyed the intellectual and emotional struggle as God pursued them and eventually they both gave themselves to Him, understanding what all it meant. This was to be pivotal in the darkest night of Sheldon’s soul.
But the Barrier was breached by God Himself, because by nature it was selfish and this presented new challenges. Davy, the wife, bounded ahead spiritually and Sheldon lagged behind. Resentment began to creep in as she explored and enjoyed new parts of her journey of which he was not part.
The climax of the book is when Davy gets sick and dies. Completely overcome by grief, Sheldon turns to his friend/mentor, Jack, aka C.S. Lewis. Deeply disappointed and even angry at God, Sheldon tries to leave Him but discovers he can’t. (I found this intriguing and hugely comforting). So he sets about attempting to understand why God allowed this to happen. C.S. Lewis writes in a letter, what became the title of the book, that God in His Severe Mercy, allowed this to happen for the actual saving of them from themselves. Had she not died, three possibilities existed for might have happened. He, Sheldon, may have given himself wholly to God, just as Davy had, but this possibility wasn’t likely because of the events in the hospital during her sickness. The second possibility was that he would have damaged or lessened her commitment to God because of his jealousy. The third possibility was that he would have grown to hate God or Davy or both. His conclusion was that God’s mercy allowed for her death.
The concept of eternity is also beautifully explored in this book. That as humans, we unconsciously resist time. Our best memories and moments are when time stands still. We wonder regretfully where time has gone. That we weren’t made for time but for timelessness, for eternity. That chapter alone is worth reading even if you don’t read the whole book.
This book was written with great introspection and deep emotion and I loved the analyzing and getting to peak inside a terrible struggle and a great mind that was able to work through it.
I enjoyed the sequel, Under the Mercy, in a different kind of way. It describes his life after Davy and the tumultuous years of the angry 60’s, where he got caught up in feminism and social activism. Where he put his neighbor before his God and how that nearly derailed him. This particularly was helpful to me as I’ve been struggling with my role and place as it relates to the ills of my society: racial discrimination, abortion, refugees, etc.
But the danger of social action is -well, what happened to me. First a generous and loving Christian response to injustice and suffering. Then, putting the neighbor first-ahead of God. And finally, putting goals and victory first, ahead of both neighbor and God. Hating ones enemy. Feeling virtuous, as the social activist always does. Finally, the feelings of virtue lading to pride, even arrogance. In some respects its a noble sin, but it may lead to Hell all the same, as putting something else ahead of God does.
That’s how Christians get to throwing trash at clients at abortion clinics. How hating a racist feels righteous or virtuous. It doesn’t answer the questions I have of things I can do, but it calls into check my attitudes and priorities.
Another must-read chapter is VIII on Women and Men-and Neuterists. He got sucked into feminism and was the most hard core of them all. Writing papers and giving talks, he was the poster boy for the movement. But then he talks about his journey back to God and then talks in depth about the evolution of gender roles and the damage it has had on our society. I loved the balance and the tact he used in talking about a polarizing topic. The most interesting idea was that a society in crisis mode (Great Depression for example) always goes back to original design in areas of gender roles and lifestyle. Fledgling feminists gave up the idea when they saw it play out on the Titanic-the men giving up their lives for the women and children. He suggests that when one gets away from nature, growing up in the wilderness of brick, perhaps with a fixed cat, that only in these kinds of conditions can unisexism grow and thrive, but in crisis mode, will revert back to original design.
I also recommend his chapter on the Loves, where he deals with the different kinds of love-romantic and friendship. I enjoyed his take on male friendship and just how powerful they can be. Women in friendships seems to be the topic of the day but he talks about the the deep bond that can happen in a brotherhood.
The final chapter tells about journey into Catholicism and while I found his thought process intriguing, I still don’t agree with him 🙂
That’s all. Go read these books! They’ve opened up all kinds of tabs in my mind and I continue to think about them, even weeks after I read them.