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Severe Mercy [Mass Market Paperback]

Sheldon Vanlauken
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 1981
Studying together at Oxford, the author and his partner met C.S. Lewis, who helped them make the momentous step into faith. Lewis later helped the author over his partner's death, showing how it could be seen not as tragedy, but as "a severe mercy".
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken, is a heart-rending love story described by its author as "the spiritual autobiography of a love rather than of the lovers." Vanauken chronicles the birth of a powerful pagan love borne out of the relationship he shares with his wife, Davy, and describes the growth of their relationship and the dreams that they share. As a symbol of their love, they name their dream schooner the Grey Goose, "for the grey goose, if its mate is killed flies on alone and never takes another."

While studying at Oxford, Sheldon and Davy develop a friendship with C.S. Lewis, under whose influence and with much intellectual scrutiny they accept the Christian doctrine. As their devotion to God intensifies, Sheldon realizes that he is no longer Davy's primary love--God is. Within this discovery begins a brewing jealousy.

Shortly after, Davy acquires a fatal illness. After her death Sheldon embarks on an intense experience of grief, "to find the meaning of it, taste the whole of it ... to learn from sorrow whatever it had to teach." Through painstaking reveries, he comes to discover the meaning of "a mercy as severe as death, a severity as merciful as love." He learns that her death "had these results: It brought me as nothing else could do to know and end my jealously of God. It saved her faith from assault. ...And it saved our love from perishing."

Replete with 18 letters from C.S. Lewis, A Severe Mercy addresses some of the universal questions that surround faith--the existence of God and the reasons behind tragedy. --Jacque Holthusen --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


One of the most remarkable books I've ever read. It belongs in the genre of St Augustine's Confessions. Dom Julian OSB Very, very good ... I don't think I could ever forget it. The Rev. Walter Hooper --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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5.0 out of 5 stars A Severe Mercy Indeed Jan. 2 2003
The love story in this book begins with the author and his beloved probing the depths of intensity and feeling associated with being in love as self-proclaimed pagan worshippers of beauty always do--seeing human love as the ideal in life. It is moving, romantic, beautiful, though really idolatrous in a way. At the time though, the beauty and depth of feeling associated with their love seems to outshine any of the idolatry therein. But then, these self-proclaimed pagans enter into the journey of divine love; a love that far outweighs and outshines their love for one another. Love for God becomes supreme for her, and eventually he ends up there too. It is a lovely and true journey that demonstrates that while love between humans can be extremely wonderful and heart-stoppingly intense, the divine love and longings for connection with God are much moreso.
Vanauken's writing style is mostly straightforward yet poetically descriptive, and at times breathtakingly gorgeous. One reason his life story translates so well into a written work is that he and Davy (his wife) viewed their life in an almost literary way. Examining each moment and occurrence, they would find significance in their daily life and point to events as foreshadowing changes to come. This book is one of the best love stories I have ever read, especially in terms of putting human love in the appropriate position of deference to love and obedience to God. I recommend it without reservation.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Weeping is not a bad thing Oct. 22 2002
When I read this book, I wept, as the friend who loaned it to me had said I would. I looked it up today to order my own copy of it, and the sequel, UNDER THE MERCY. When I read some of the reviews I was appalled. This book is beautifully written. You can feel that you are there in the study with Sheldon and Davy and the students. You long to return there. And the love stories, for it is two stories: the story of Sheldon and Davy's love and the story of their separate love affairs with God. Some people would object to a faith relationship being described as a love affair with God, but that is precisely why we have today a society that is longing for something and searching, often in all the wrong places. I want to own a copy of each book so that I can revisit those people and learn more each time I go back. Some people may feel threatened by the beauty in the book and be afraid that they will never share such beauty. Keep listening and learning, because the beauty is there for all of us if we just ask Him/Her in.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Sentimental, yet Truthful Dec 19 2003
A story about love, the shining barrier, between a pre-WWII American couple that leads to a life of deep living and true struggle with what life and relationship bring to each other. CS Lewis, God, and intellectualism all mix in a very well thought out and true to life way that make this a most timely and peculiarly important book. Three big events: the love of a couple, their conversion to Christ, and death all mix with how God must be faced in our lives. Touching, sentimental, yet truthful to the greater truths of what it really means to be a follower of Christ.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Honest to God Dec 9 2002
Something to give friends who might feel they are too smart and/or sophisticated to be/become Christians. True story of two such people who God, with a little help from C.S. Lewis, converted. Early on in their relationship they vow to let nothing get in the way of their love for each other - not children, not Him. But He uses no less a bastion of intelligent thought than Oxford for the setting of His entrance to their hearts and minds. A must read for all who wish to be born again.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I seldom cry reading a book.......... Sept. 7 2003
The excellent reviews I've read here leave little more for me to say. This is a wonderful, touching story of love, loss and ultimate gain that left me as a 20-something young man in a puddle of tears. When I re-read it pushing 40, darned if I didn't cry again!
I picked this book up initially because of the connection to C.S. Lewis, but it stands on its own. The letters from Jack are gravy.
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