Thursday, January 22, 2009

Coffeegirl Book Club

Chapter 2 - The Shining Barrier

"As you can tell, I would probably be the overzealous talker in our book club if we were face to face, so I hope you’ll step in and keep the conversation balanced with your own opinions and perspectives."
-- a Coffeegirl confession

Review of Important Highlights

Chapter 1 managed to lay the foundation for much of the book, so the major characters in Chapter 2 have already been presented – Van and Davy (or Sheldon Vanauken and Jean Davis, properly). We are exposed to several thematic elements which contribute to the establishment of their relationship, which will prove to be important in the coming chapters: the shared love of poetry, music, flying, and sailing.

As he recounts the values that were embraced to sustain the depth and passion of their early love throughout their lifetime, Vanauken acknowledges that their love was a pagan love, which interestingly resulted in not a selfish love, but rather an entirely selfless love with the utmost and highest devotion to the other. The Shining Barrier – the shield of our love – is raised, guarding against creeping separateness between two lovers, against the self interest that can tear love apart. Based on their value of absolute sharing, Van and Davy sought to “…create a thousand strands, great and small, that will link us together. Then we shall be so close that it would be impossible – unthinkable – for either of us to suppose that we could recreate such closeness with anyone else.”

Points of Reflection

The recounting of certain stories in this chapter just makes me smile as it reflects familiar aspects of the human experience. His account of new love, spring-time love, is exactly what makes us now smile happily when we listen to new lovers describe the “miracle” of their love. Many aspects of new love that are believed to be unique are in fact experiences that most can nod their heads in agreement with, recalling identical feelings in the early stages of falling in love. Having been teased for many years about the number of boyfriends I had before meeting and marrying Jason, Vanauken’s retelling of “a man in the jungle at night…may suppose a hyena’s growl to be a lion’s; but when he hears the lion’s growl, he knows damn’ well it’s a lion. So it is with genuine inloveness” resonated so clearly with me that I had to laugh. And I laughed as well at his description of Davy’s suppressed “yelp” that was produced by her distress over their disagreement that caused him to break the silence. I’ve watched that very scene play out between myself and Jason on more than one occasion.

Since my first reading of this book, I have been inspired by the intentionality that was put forth to not just dream of, but to actually build, a relationship based on values deemed essential for building a lasting and loving relationship. As much as I love the ideas that are presented, I admit that I am critical of certain aspects – not of their nature but of the degree to which they are applied, such as not simply appreciating the interests of the other, but to take up the interest personally and learn to love it as well.

What did you think of the values they established for their relationship and how they were applied? Which ones did you like, and to what degree would you apply them?

Overall, what I love most about this chapter is the practical portrayal of mutual submission, thinking not first of the self nor the other, but what is best for the relationship. While void of any allegiance to God or consideration of His truth, their pagan love still depicts many aspects of a love marked not by submission of woman to man, nor man to woman, but one unto another. No matter your convictions about the role or manner of submission in marriage, it is clear that Paul calls both men and women to submit to one another in marriage when he writes, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” I am inspired by the depiction of this mentality – utmost sharing, striving toward selflessness, standing guard against the creeping separation between two lovers, never laying down the law and expecting compliance, learning to appreciate the other’s interests, encouraging the creative and spontaneous moments of the other, complying with courtesy to requests (and courteously considering a request before making it), being willing to change for the good of the relationship, and appealing to love when conflicts between the willful self and love arise. I am encouraged by these examples and reminded of the absolute contrast between the fleshly nature of selfish existence and the selfless nature of love. I marvel that Van and Davy were driven by such selfless love without a belief or understanding of God’s love.

I can’t wait to hear what stuck out to you this week – what made you laugh, what inspired you, what may have rubbed you the wrong way. As you can tell, I would probably be the overzealous talker in our book club if we were face to face, so I hope you’ll step in and keep the conversation balanced with your own opinions and perspectives. Remember, if you don’t have the book but are intrigued by something you read here, please feel free to join the conversation as well.


jpierce said...

I did a stellar comment on the book, but posted it on the previous short term mission teams post. Sorry, don't know how to fix it. But you can read it there.JP

Shilo said...

This is the most thought provoking book I've read in awhile. I find myself reading a sentence and being drawn back to the beginning of it, slowly soaking in the meaning of each word. Van's descriptions are so beautiful.
The Shining Barrier is an idea that I think every couple needs to implement. Maybe our shining barrier will look different than Van and Davey's did, but every marriage needs to be proactively protecting their love and promoting it's growth through shared experiences. For me, this chapter provides the opportunity and challenge to look at my marriage and see where I can give myself more selflessly and creatively.

smcardo said...

I was truly touched by Van and Davey's depth of "inloveness" and commitment to the "Shining Barrier". It challenged me in my own 29 year relationship with my husband. However, I wonder about the wisdom of lovers never spending any time apart from each other to enjoy special activities with other friends. Is it healthy to be so consumed with each other that we never benefit from the blessings of female friendships; or have I misunderstood the seclusive nature of Van and Davey's relationship?

amyinbj said...

Rats ... I just lost my post :) I'll re-do it tomorrow.

Coffeegirl said...

Hello friends - I've got a cup of coffee and quiet moment to sit and revisit your comments on this chapter. I agree with you, Shilo, that the concept of the Shining Barrier is something every couple can benefit from, but that its nature would look different for each individual couple. Smcardo, I don't think you misunderstood the seclusive nature of the relationship Van and Davy were seeking to build - it's pretty strict, isn't it?! I think there is great wisdom in spending time with female / male friends as we find encouragement there that is uniquely different than that of our spouses. I also think that people with different personality types may need more time alone pursuing individual interests, or perhaps more time with other people. jpierce, I loved your point about the reality of kids taking some of the "ideal" out of each day! I too feel that their standards are too idealized to be real. Interestingly, I do find that the nature of each standard resonates with me in some way, which I suppose brings me back around to what you've all said about utilizing the good pieces to strengthen my own relationships and letting the over-the-top pieces go.

amyinbj, I have totally had that happen to me before and know how frustrating that is! Glad to know you're reading along and I'll look forward to seeing your re-post come through when you find the time.

Libby said...

At the beginning of the chapter when he talks about them falling in love I related to this quote:
"We were hesitant to admit our love even to ourselves at first, it was too soon; one must be cool; one must be wary. The question was: could it be believed? It was like a letter announcing one's inheritance of a fortune from an unknown great uncle. Some things take a good deal of believing. There was in both of us a kind of hesitant, incredulous wonder. Could this really be happening - this marvel?"
I felt the same way as I fell in love with my husband.:)

At the same time that I think their focus on the Shining Barrier lead to a very inward focus, like others mentioned, not time with other men or women, it is also something that we do not do enough in our culture. What is the message we get now a days? Independence.
But the focus on independence has gone way overboard and has led to many many marriages being ruined or a the very least the couple is content to just settle for something less.
I think something like a Shining Barrier to fight the "creeping seperateness" (I love that phrase) would help us not just go with the flow of what everybody else does but to be committed to each other and allow the Holy Spirit who is also apart of our marriage to work in each other's lives.
When we don't just do what "a typical wife" does with a "typical husband" we can find such treasures in our relationship with our husbands...especially because Christ is there too!
I think that is also one key thing missing of course with Van and Davy...the whole thing while it sounded beautiful also sounded empty....the one big thing missing...the Lord!
I know this is getting long, but one more thing I loved that my husband and I do...we love to spend time alone together talking and dreaming. We aren't into sailing but we have our own things we love to dream and research together and talk and talk and talk about.
Loving this book. It's been great to take a break here and there to read it.

amyinbj said...

Hi all, the essence of what I wanted to say that isn't completely echoing what others have said, is that I appreciated how Van kept reminding us that they were 'pagans' (his term). While probably many nonbelievers would also question the 'wisdom' of having to share every interest, they wouldn't see the impossibility without the mutual self sacrificial attitude of Christ. I read this book over ten years ago and can't remember how Chirst impacts the Shining Barrier ... but I know he does :). Need to keep reading!


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