A Severe Mercy
Sheldon and Davy Vanauken knew at once that they shared the most rare of loves. Basing their lives on a dogma of complete sharing and a unselfish focus on what was best for both, they created what they dubbed the “ Shining Barrier” to safeguard their tiny, self-sufficient world of two from everything else. Then an Oxford don named C.S. Lewis came into their lives, bringing with him a Christianity unlike that which they had scorned years before, and they started to wonder if they were as untouchable by the world as they had once thought. When both became Christians, their love continued, stronger than ever. But when Davy became fatally ill, everything they thought they understood was again called into question.
A Severe Mercy is Sheldon’ s story of the love he and Davy shared and his struggle to cope with her sickness and death. His journey of theological exploration is buttressed throughout by remarkable letters from C.S. Lewis that offer compassion and theological insight, as well as a penetrating glimpse into Lewis’ own burgeoning relationship with Joy Davidman, a relationship that would in many ways parallel that of Sheldon and Davy.
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