Thursday, March 12, 2009

Coffeegirl Book Club

Chapter 9

"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."

After the whirlwind pace of the preceding chapters, this week’s reading felt like a chance to catch a deep breath and look back over the many things that had happened. I was pleased to see many of the passages we’ve pulled out for discussion in previous weeks be revisited by Vanauken himself, and I enjoyed considering them again in relation to the other events of the book.

Vanauken’s comments about the residual feeling of “incompleteness” that remained even in the most fulfilling moments of enjoyment intrigued me. I have pondered that feeling many times, wondering why even the most splendid of experiences can leave me feeling somewhat unsatisfied, as if I could’ve experienced it more deeply, but not knowing how. He captured it perfectly , saying, “…there was something more, something still deeper, that we hadn’t time enough – world and time enough – to reach. We didn’t at all feel that we were unable to reach it, only that there wasn’t time enough.” This added a level of humanity to Van and Davy’s experiences that I hadn’t seen expressed in any other chapters, and I found it refreshing.

One of my favorite parts of every book I read is the portion where the reason for the title is explained, so this chapter was a natural highlight for me. Vanauken’s reflection on the condition of his own will towards God, the implications this had upon the event of Davy’s dying, and the possibilities of how things would have been had Davy been healed really helped to craft the idea of “a severe mercy” – a mercy as severe as death, a severity as merciful as love.

Lewis’ sharp but trusted critique of the Shining Barrier articulated so well the discomfort that we expressed early on with the exclusivity of their relationship. I was glad to hear him comment so directly on the misplaced priority in the relationship, best stated by Lewis himself: One flesh must not ‘live to itself’ any more than the single individual. It was not made, any more than he, to be its Own End. The realizations this honest critique allowed Vanauken to develop about his own jealousy of God and the condition of his own heart even during Davy’s final months were good for me to read. I particularly loved this quote:

It took her death, ironical as it must seem, to make me content in her turning her gaze from me to the Eternal Fountain.

That summarizes so many things from the preceding chapters and highlights the real focus of the book – not the love story between Van and Davy, but the ultimate breach of the Shining Barrier by God’s hand in order to turn Vanauken’s eyes to the Eternal Fountain, as gently as he could. I love it.


Libby said...

I finally just finished reading this chapter yesterday.
As he talked about and realized many things through Davy's death by looking back at their time together I related. Not specifically to their exact circumstances but to that whole process of looking back on a particularly hard time and then going beyond that in the past and then looking at it all in light of the present, looking at all of it from different angles you might say....and then realizing some things God wanted to show you, teach you or others.
I've been thinking lately how God doesn't allow me to see His purpose and plan until later on. (and sometimes of course I never see it and it will be heaven before I know) It was good to read this chapter right now and think about all this and what "A severe mercy" means.
What did you all think of the section in this chapter where he talks about Eternity?
"...if we complain of time and take such joy in the seemingly timeless moment, what does that suggest?
It suggests that we have not always been or will not always be purely temporal creatures. It suggests that we were created for eternity"
I enjoyed his picture of what heaven might be. "and talk for an hour or several hours - until we have said all we have to say for now." I love that.

Ashley L. said...

Hi! I love this site! I have a blog for the blogroll if you wouldn't mind adding me. thanks!

Missionary Moms

amyinbj said...

This chapter had me thinking again about how unnatural time feels. My boss was on a kick in the fall trying to get us not to say that we were busy. Instead he wanted us to say that our lives were full. I do understand that heart of what he was trying to get at and foster in us, but sometimes BUSY was how I felt ... which seemed different that full.

I love the power of the phrase "A Severe Mercy." This life story exhibits God's severe mercy towards Van (and Davy one could argue as well). I would imagine that I have one as well but it doesn't seem quite at evident. I wonder what it is. I have a few guesses, but I'm not sure if that is just me trying to give meaning to events in my life that didn't turn out the way I expected or were they indeed severe mercies? In some I can see that has I gotten what I wanted it would not have been good for me -- in that sense they are a mercy. But as I look for a severe mercy, I'm not as certain ... maybe it is yet to come ... =)

Coffeegirl said...

I felt my soul resonating with that same passage on Eternity, Libby. Those timeless moments in life give us a little foretaste, but it sure is hard to imagine the glory of a life unbound by time. I chuckled at the passage related to this where he says, "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."

Amy, that idea came to mind as well when I read your point about the reality of busy vs. 'full life'. I agree that the two feel very different - in fact, I think I would usually use the concept of life being 'full' when it is filled with time consuming but *good* things. Busy is quite simply frustrating and it grates on my soul. I agree with you - good intention, but not the same. : )

I also loved what you had to say about finding the severe mercy in our own lives. It builds on what you were saying, Libby, about looking at things from different angles and seeing what God wants to show us in it. I'm now wondering what it may be in my life, or if it is still to come. There are many mercies to be sure, but this idea of a severe mercy is even weightier. You've got me thinking...

Hope you're all enjoying a nice weekend. Ashley, we're glad to have you along!

Shan in Japan said...

I noticed that all of the places I dog-eared in this chapter are sections talking about time/timelessness/eternity. I guess this is really on my mind since I just returned from a retreat where we talked about John 15, abiding in Christ. How do we abide when our lives are full? when they get busy?!
I love those moments of timelessness, like he described on the boat with the sea-fire. Coming back to time-reality is not always fun.
As I look back on my life I see many mercies, but, as Amy said, I am not sure any of them would qualify as 'severe mercies.' I am not sure that I can say I am looking forward to such an experience, but hopefully, after reading this book, I have a better idea about how to handle such an experience.
Are you planning another book yet?! Thank you for this time and challenging us through the reading of this book!

Becky Aguirre said...

Well, I'm late getting a comment on here...seems like I've had trouble pulling my thoughts together on this chapter and also on your two latest posts! First the kids were sick, then Miguel, and now I'm fighting it...and we got a new puppy today, so lots going on. :)

I enjoyed this chapter since it kind of pulled everything together and reviewed other parts of the story, like you said. I had never really thought about experiences in life being a "severe mercy" and I liked the way Van says that it took Davy's death to shift Van's focus from their relationship to God.

I really enjoyed C.S. Lewis' comments and in was interesting to note the relationship that existed between them that he felt free to point out the errors he saw in Van and Davy's relationship...that kind of friendship is precious, indeed!


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