Worth Reading

A Severe Mercy

What is the book recommendation that will appeal immediately to the greatest number of potential readers? How about this: Once you begin reading this book, you will not be able to put it down. That was my experience, decades ago, with A Severe Mercy and now again as I pick it up heading into a New Year. It will hold true for others who enjoy love stories (of the kind that are not pure sentimental mush for this book is far from that). Or, for those who love stories about how God becomes real to people, putting this book down will not come easily. Or, for those who appreciate stories filled with depth, poignancy, and a willingness to look at life, and death, in full scope, this book will keep a strong hold on the reader’s attention. Love. Faith. Tragedy. Triumph. Deep reflection. Attractive protagonists. All powerfully packed here is a movingly told testimony.

A Severe Mercy is Sheldon Vanauken’s recounting of the birth of his love for Davy, his wife, while they studied at Oxford. They dreamt, they explored the world (on their schooner, the Grey Goose) and they explored as atheists the claims of Christianity. Davy converted, creating a fissure, so it seemed, in their relationship---and then she became fatally ill. The book’s many themes include Sheldon’s eventual willingness to face his coming loss squarely: "to find the meaning of it, taste the whole of it ... to learn from sorrow whatever it had to teach." The book’s title, worth pausing over, came from the personal counsel of C.S. Lewis to him. Davy’s death would be for Sheldon a “severe mercy.” With a clarity of vision that can become ours, Vanauken bears witness to the purifying work of God through a heavy trial that leads to more, not less, confidence in God’s love. A Severe Mercy is a contemporary Christian classic worth reading in any year--maybe especially in this New Year when life’s big questions have been painfully with us.