Monday, October 10, 2016

it always must be lost in some way

On a quick visit to my sister in Durham, I stopped at one of my favorite used bookstores. The day before, I'd finished a book and was ready for a new one - the perfect excuse to buy something there. This might sound silly, but I prayed as I entered that bookstore, hoping the Spirit would lead me to find what I needed to read next. I always end up finding books that mean a lot to me.

I bought three: a book of short stories, a book on Africa and a book called A Severe Mercy. This one had been ringing in my ears over the past few years - repeated in conversations or things I read online. So the title stuck out to me. What I knew about it was that the author tells the story of the death and his subsequent grieving of his wife, as well as of his friendship with C.S. Lewis during this time. Comparatively, I've read only a small spattering of Lewis, but I know that I love his letters and more contemplative writing, and hoped I'd love reading about this friendship.

The book starts with a strange prologue/chapter 1, then jumps into the story at the beginning of the story: boy meets girl. Neither follow any kind of religion. About a third of the way through, the author reminds the reader that, "this book, after all, is a spiritual autobiography of a love rather than of the lovers." He describes their early stages of love as a pagan love, since their orientation was inward. Their aim was to protect their love at all costs. He writes with a sense of superiority and great mission, which felt cumbersome at times (capital letters for the Shining Barrier they constructed for protection of their love,  the Appeal to Love which was their modus operandi in making decisions in their marriage). He also includes love poems he wrote -- for his love and about their love.

The writing wasn't exactly my taste, at least until he starts communicating with C.S. Lewis. Their friendship starts when the couple begins to consider Christianity. During their conversion and early days of following Jesus, as well as after the eventual death of the author's wife, Lewis writes with his characteristic clarity about themes of love, grief, joy and eternity.

For me, this book really hit its stride after the author's wife's death, perhaps because I'd had enough of his verbose descriptions of their love and life together. That's also where the universal truth he's trying to convey in this autobiography of love crystalizes: that like every life, every love must also die and be reborn.

Suggesting that the wife's death may in fact be a mercy from God, though a severe one, C.S. Lewis writes to the author:

I sometimes wonder whether bereavement is not, at bottom, the easiest and least perilous of the ways in which men lose the happiness of youthful love. For I believe it must always be lost in some way; every merely natural love has to be crucified before it can achieve resurrection and the happy old couples have through difficult death and rebirth. But far more have missed the rebirth.

A mercy because the rebirth is less likely to be missed, because the letting go is a forced one.

The book held a few other precious Lewis-isms, but really this the piece that keeps turning around in my head. Though young love is so much fun, I've always been drawn to that long-established love that has gone through the fire and burned off what was never going to last long anyway. I also love the idea of a love that has a life of its own, a story to tell, something to share with others.

(I've been falling behind on writing - both book re-caps and everything else that has a chance to flit through my head or heart. This week I'm hoping to write and post at least a little every day. It may not be good, but there will be words.)

(photo: at a coffee shop with my niece and nephew. styling by my niece, photography by my nephew. they're already hipsters.)

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