Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Week of Mercy: Day 5

One of my favorite books of all time is Sheldon Vanauken's A Severe Mercy. I was in my 20's when a friend casually slipped the book to me, knowing that I was hurting but being discrete enough to not call direct attention to it.

I only had to see the title of the book to be simultaneously drawn to and frightened by it. I had heard the word "mercy" all of my life in the context of religious practice, but I had never heard anyone call it severe before. I imagine, like many people, I wanted mercy to be something soft, gentle and easy.

The book tells a life story that was riveting in both its beauty and its pathos. A young love, so idealized, begins to stumble but is saved from one sort of tragedy by another. The book includes letters by C. S. Lewis to the author and it is in one of these letters that the title phrase was coined.

Those many years ago, I had never heard of C. S. Lewis and that book opened many doors for me. I have especially loved his fiction, re-reading many times the Chronicles of Narnia and his Space Trilogy. For any who have not read the seven books about Narnia, I heartily recommend them. Though written for children, adults could find no clearer understanding of Lewis's profound insights into God and people.

Part of the brilliance of Lewis's story-telling has much to do with mercy. In his various stories, the characters are imperfect, sometimes displaying small acts of selfishness, other times great acts of treachery. Mercy is always offered but Lewis makes it clear that it is not easy and that these acts are not without consequence.

Sometimes a child in the story is met with a growl (a Lion's expression of disapproval), but other times great suffering must be endured to make things right. Yet, the suffering is never portrayed as punishment.

If my actions have resulted in me becoming a dragon, the process of being un-dragoned necessarily involves considerable work and discomfort. Yet once un-dragoned, I emerge from the process a changed person - no, a new person.

Dying to my old self, no matter how discontented I am with it, is certainly no easier than the death of the body. And birth into new life can be no less painful than coming forth from my mother's womb.

God is not content to leave us in the misery we have created for ourselves. But neither is He content to just pass out "get-out-of-jail-free" cards that do not free us from our jail-seeking ways.

God's mercy is not severe because He does not love us - but because He does. May we so long for it that we do not flee the suffering that will make us new, that will make us His...