Wednesday, June 6, 2012

a raid on the inarticulate

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years-
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres-
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholy new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate,
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate - but there is no competition -
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

T.S. Eliot, East Coker V

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Review: A Severe Mercy

No book had ever made me cry. When I read A Severe Mercy, I wept.

A Severe Mercy is Sheldon Vanauken’s autobiography that deals with his relationship with his wife Davy, their journey from paganism to Christianity, friendship with C.S. Lewis, and Davy’s death. Many have written about romance, religious conversion and tragedy, but it is the beauty and authenticity with which Vanauken tells his story that sets it apart. The joy and pain of Vanauken’s story is played out through philosophical contemplation, raw emotion, and honest wrestling with God.

Although the story centers around the life of Vanauken and Davy, the themes in the book transcend their personal story, and even their lives. From the beginning of their relationship, the Vanaukens deliberately cultivated a very thorough paradigm of love, beauty, truth, and longing for eternity that underwent a major evolution after their individual conversions to Christianity. “We saw self as the ultimate danger to love, which it is; we didn’t see it as the ultimate evil of hell, which it also is,” Vanauken writes about their pre-conversion worldview.

Vanauken’s story is much more philosophical than a typical autobiography, yet his narrative is anything but dry. The eloquent prose reflects his background as a literature professor and an amateur poet. Throughout the book he lapses into the third person to convey his thoughts, abstracting himself from his ideas in a way that allows the readers to easily follow his reasoning. This detached treatment of ideas provides contrast to his personal struggle to internalize those ideas, and ultimately, to surrender himself to God.

A few years into their marriage, the Vaunakens moved to Oxford for Sheldon’s studies. Their time close acquaintance with a group of serious Christians there inspired them to study the faith they had previously rejected. They greatly admired the work of C.S. Lewis, and “on an impulse” Sheldon wrote to Lewis about his struggle to accept Christianity. Their subsequent correspondence was instrumental in Vanauken’s conversion, after which Lewis became a trusted mentor and lifelong friend, and they maintained a lively correspondence even after the Vanaukens returned to America. Many of the letters Sheldon received from C.S. Lewis are interspersed throughout the latter half of the book, and provide Lewis’s characteristic depth of wisdom.

After the Vanaukens returned to America, Sheldon struggled with the realization that their love must be subject to Christ. Early in their relationship and prior to their conversion, the Vanaukens described their love for each other as the Shining Barrier--  “It was our love itself, made strong within” that was their ultimate good and would transcend even death. After their conversion it pained Vanauken to see his wife following Christ above her love for him.

“I didn’t want us to be swallowed up in God,” he wrote, “I wanted holidays from the school of Christ. We should, somehow, be able to have the Shining Barrier intact and follow the King of Glory. I didn’t want to be a saint. Almost none of this did I consciously know– just longings. But for Davy, to live was Christ.”
Vanauken’s struggle is the universal struggle of all Christians attempting to live out Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Vanauken’s frank disclosure of his idolatry shocked me. But I was not so shocked by his sentiment, but by the realization that his words resonated with something deep within me. Convicted, I cried over the unsurrendered loves in my own heart.

“God in His ample love embraced our love with, it may be, a sort of tenderness, and we must tread the Way to Him hand in hand,” Vanauken writes. But God did not intend for Sheldon and Davy to tread hand in hand for very long. Recalling Davy’s illness and death, Vanauken writes of himself, “He had had– was having-- all the sorrow there was. And yet, the joy was worth the pain.”

I cried again when I read of the joy in pain, the hope of life everlasting in Christ, and the depths of Vanauken’s devotion to his wife.

Lewis was instrumental in helping Vanauken understand the goodness of God in Davy’s death. The richness of their correspondence after her death– pondering God’s goodness, musing about eternity– was refreshing after the emotional intensity of Vanauken’s loss. The book’s title comes from a letter from Lewis, who described Davy’s death as a “severe mercy” from God.

The strength of Vanauken’s faith is remarkable. He writes, “I cannot escape the impression that Somebody was being very gentle with us. Perhaps she had to die– for me, for our dear love, for God.” Elsewhere he reflects, “ was for me, despite grief and aloneness, worth it.”

I wept again, praying for a faith that could say– no matter the trials it endured– “it was for me, worth it.”

Originally published in the Patrick Henry College Herald.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hijacked Joy

I wanted to prove her wrong. Christ is joy, she told me, rebuking my foul attitude. I objected. Look it up, she said, Search scripture.

Annoyed, I did. I scorned joy because I did not have it, and as such I did not want to be found without Christ.

All I could think was, the joy set before Him.

Matthew. Mark. Luke. John. I am winning. Acts. Romans. Google.

I found it. Hebrews 12:1-2.

I returned to my search, a robot combing through data while streams of living water coursed through my head. In my self-focused pursuit to prove her wrong I forgot a fundamental truth.

God’s word does not return void.

My stubbornly sullen, world-weary, hardened heart tried to resist.

Christ endured the cross because of the joy it would bring.

I sat there, persistent in my pathetic refusal of joy He won for me.

I returned to my search results, tried to numb the joint-and-marrow splitting word of God. I glazed over Hebrews only to be jerked to a halt by the results for James.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds...

The attitude of my heart implied that the joy Christ sets before me is not worth the endurance of (momentary, light) present trials.

My heart began to yield to the life-giving word of God. I finished looking at the search results, but I no longer cared about them.

... let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us...
The sin of my impatience had hijacked the joy set before me. Impatience kept me fixated on an uncertain future and created frustration. But God does not command us to run the race with our eyes fixed on a future beyond our control. We are to run looking unto Jesus. He alone is the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God...

My heart relented, and I repented.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace...
Isaiah 55:10-12

Saturday, January 28, 2012


The household of those who do not live by faith chases an earthly peace consisting of the affairs and advantages of this temporal life. - Augustine, City of God.

It is so easy to become obsessed with the pursuit of an earthly peace. I try to micromanage my earthly affairs in an attempt to fulfill the dreams God has placed on my heart.  But in vain I have struggled to secure temporal peace for my eternal soul.

It is painful to chase the ever-elusive earthly peace. Success is infrequent, fleeting, and uncertain. I am left weary, longing, unfulfilled. 

Augustine was a wise man. He understood that the Christian life is not constrained to achievement here on earth.

The household of human being living by faith, on the other hand, looks forward to the future, to those things which are promised as eternal, and makes use of temporal and earthly things like a traveler.

I must remind myself that the achievement of temporal and earthly things is not the end. Such things are merely a mean. They are tools to be used for God's glory. As such, a perspective limited to the temporal only robs me of the hope found in "an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading." (1 Peter 1:4)

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth ~ Colossians 3:2

Friday, January 13, 2012

Brown Paper Packages

Brown paper packages, tied up with string
These are a few of my favorite things...

 I love the contrast of the red plaid and the fresh greens.

I loved the simplicity of this little wreath but making it was a bit tricky.

Close-up of the wreath. One of my favorite pictures.