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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Severe Mercy

"A Severe Mercy" is the title of a book written by Sheldon Vanauken, a friend of C.S. Lewis. In it, he write of marriage to his soulmate, with whom he had the explicit understanding that one would not outlive the other. "The last, long dive" would take both of them, at once.

But his wife became ill and died, and Vanauken realized that there was meaning, and ultimately joy, in staying the course, and living through the lonely days. His loss was the severe mercy that brought him from the pagan ideal of a sort of Viking funeral into the arms of God.

Last year my college teaching career came to an unexpected, and bitter end. I had come to it late, only earning a PhD in my late 30s, and worked hard to get what I considered a good position, in which I could do the research I enjoyed and teach more classes than most.

And one day it was gone, and the manner of its ending left the chances for another position hovering between slim and none.

Did I mourn? You bet. But it is turning out to be my severe mercy, a break that has seen the publication of Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart, the preparation of several more novels, the reconstruction of airplane parts that had been fit for scrap...it's seen my wife blossom in a new job, finding strength in relating to people that she never thought she had. It's brought several new dogs into the pack, who would otherwise have been euthanized, and whose daily joy and, I think, gratitude is a constant inspiration.

I'll always miss the interaction with college kids, and the fun of conferences and research presentations. But God has snapped the reins, and we've moved off the trail, steeplechasing across the fields, up a slope to a horizon backlit by a rising sun.

What about you? Have there been severe mercies in your life? And how long did it take to recognize them?


  1. A Severe Mercy was one of my favourite reads in college. I was stunned to find out the "unfairness" of God was actually used for His glory.
    Lewis and Vanauken taught me alot about soldiering on.

  2. They taught me a lot, too. I love C.S. Lewis' apologetics - he puts logic into Christianity, and makes it easy to talk to an agnostic or atheist.

    When i was in college I studied engineering - I read a lot of Buddhist scripture and analysis at the time, which made everyone think I was a hippie.

    A title I wore with pride!