In the quiet of the morning, sitting in the rays that peeked in through the back window of the living room, I am teary eyed with a well-worn book in my hand. I have carried it with me for weeks–in my satchel and suitcase. Its words have weighed heavily upon my spirit, as if they have been sinking in slowly. They are not all entirely new revelations, but they are truthful ones. And my spirit always seems to resonate with truth. A Severe Mercy is the title. The author, Sheldon Vanauken, was a friend of C.S. Lewis. Vanauken, a man who loved beauty and learning was a student at Oxford when he first encountered Lewis and Christianity. This book is a love story–both of human and heavenly love. It is not my desire to produce some sort of review of the book–or even write about my opinion of it.
There are things in life and literature, you see, that one must experience alone.
I simply wish to provide several excerpts and hope that they might cause you to stop and think, as I have, on this gray sort of summer day.
If, indeed, we all have a kind of appetite for eternity, we have allowed ourselves to be caught up in a society that frustrates our longing at every turn. Half our inventions are advertised to save time–the washing machine, the fast car, the jet flight–but for what? Never were people more harried by time: by watches, by buzzers, by time cocks, by precise schedules, by the beginning of the program me. There is, in fact, some truth in ‘the good old days’: no other civilization of the past was ever so harried by time. And yet, why not? Time is our natural environment. We live in time as we live in the air we breathe. And we love the air–who has not taken deep breaths of pure, fresh country air, just for the pleasure of it? How strange that we cannot love time. It spoils our loveliest moments. Nothing quite comes up to expectations because of it. We alone: animals, so far as we can see, are unaware of time, untroubled. Time is their natural environment. Why do we sense that it is not ours? C.S. Lewis, in his second letter to me at Oxford, asked how it was that I, as a product of a materialistic universe, was not at home there. ‘Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always been, or wd. not always be, purely aquatic creatures? Then, if we complain of time and take such joy in the seemingly timeless moment, what does that suggest?’ It suggests that we have no always been or will not always be purely temporal creatures. It suggests that we were created for eternity. Not only are we harried by time, we seem unable, despite a thousand generations, even to get used to it. We are always amazed at it–how fast it goes, how slowly it goes, how much of it has 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 a proof, or at least a powerful suggestion, that eternity exists and is our home. (202)
Pondering Lewis’s words about joy and my own thinking upon time and eternity, recalling the tendency of Davy and me to substitute the means for the end, not only the yacht for the time-free-existence it was to make possible but also other glimpses of heavenly joy–joy through love and beauty–that we were allowed and what we made of them, especially the Shining Barrier, I came to wonder whether all objects that men and women set their hearts upon, even the darkest and most obsessive desires, do not begin as intimations of joy from the sole spring of joy, God. One man’s intimation of joy through beauty and his longing to be, somehow, one with that beauty may lead him to painting, thence, the beauty half-forgotten, to advocacy of nothing more than an artistic fashion; or that same desire to be one with beauty may lead another man to cut-throat art-collecting or to flamboyant, Wildean excesses in his personal life. Someone else may link the joy with a glimpse of heavenly justice in the end forgotten. A boy growing up in a crowded, squalid flat may associate the joy with clean spaciousness which then becomes affluence, the desire for which causes him to become a crook, believing vaguely that the world owes him his heart’s desire. an inkling of joy through human love might lead to lust and orgiastic cruelty. The priest’s vocation may spring from his glimpse of God as joy, but that vocation may become episcopal politics, God mouthed and forgotten. Even a Hitler may begin with a longing for joy through peace and order. (208)
And these today’s musings.