I was telling my mom just now about how I always have to grieve the end of books. It almost feels like getting broken up with....you invest time and emotional energy into them and then one day it's just over, and you don't know where to go from there. Don't laugh. The characters or authors become friends, people who speak to my heart and I enjoy learning and watching them as it progresses. This week, I finished two books, so I'm a little sad, because they were really good.
One of them was A Severe Mercy, and ohmygosh, a must read in my standards. Sheldon Vanuaken writes of the deep, all-consuming love between him and Davy (his wife) and amidst what he calls their "pagan love," their conversion to Christianity. The depth at which life, love, Christianity, and grief breached his reality is rich and compelling. Enough with the book review.
Van, as his dear friend C.S. Lewis referenced him, bespoke of joy so much in this book. I've had this thought before about how so much of our Christianity has become a process, a progression of steps to get to an end result. Goal-oriented. I'm so fearful of that methodical mentality for the sheer fact that we get so caught up in going about the process correctly that we completely lose the reason behind why we do it. Van completely echoed, or I guess I echoed him, this thought in the book.
Pondering Lewis' thoughts about joy and my own thinking about time and eternity, recalling the tendency of Davy and me to substitute the means for the end, not only the yacht for the time-free existence it was to make possible but also other glimpses of heavenly joy--joy through love and beauty--that we were allowed and what we made of them, especially the Shining Barrier (read: the covenant between themselves to always pursue love and complete sameness between one another over anything else), 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. One man's intimation of joy through beauty and his longing to be. somehow, one with that beauty may lead him to painting and thence, the beauty half-forgotten, to advocacy of nothing more than an artistic fashion....
My feeble self does this all the time, it becomes less and less about the end joy, the desire for myself and others to love Christ better, or creating a place for others to be safe, or pursuing beauty for rest, or reading for the love of it, and it starts becoming about the "rightnesss" of my love/pursuit of it. It begets arrogance much of the time. It happens in the bible all the time. Look at the tower of Babel....these people wanted closeness with God and ended up substituting the desire of closeness for the achievement of a tower to God.
It is so easy to lose purpose in the pursuit. I've come to find that so garishly true in my life this summer. And all I know to do once I glimpse the egotisticalness of my need to be better, righter, more kind, more patient, the one that everyone likes, is to just cry. It's always one of those moments where I come back to the reality of my frailty, my complete inability to get it right short of the mercy of God to help me.
Earlier in this book, when Davy is dying, Van prays, and as he's sitting by her hospital bed, he just asks for her best good. He said that was all he knew to pray in rightness. And coming to that place he realized that he didn't know what her best good was, all he knew was what he wanted her best good to be (staying with him). Her best good meant Van losing her here. And I ached for him. But the ability for him to remember the depth at which there is a "best" we don't understand and to choose to believe that for her despite the agony it caused him, was a slap in the face to me. He talks about how God taking Davy from him was a severe mercy, a fierce and cutting glimpse into the reality that sometimes God's best good for us isn't the "good" way in our minds. That it can take a gouging out of what becomes our intermediate substitute for the joy we initially were pursuing.
To be honest, this book brought me back to a vicious truth about myself, I am of split ambition. I have this minute longing for the eternal, this ache for timelessness, but it is often overtaken by the ease of succumbing to Now. Hebrews is an entire book written on remembering the end goal....looking constantly ahead and pursuing future promises despite circumstances.
That's the kind of life I want, to be able to see merit in Now, but always to be living for future promises. For me, I have to ask for help all the time, I suck at looking forward. I pray for the ability to believe in future good regardless of my situation, and that's divine folks. I need God for that. And I'll be honest, this past year I haven't looked beyond my situation. I was engulfed in the temporary and treated everyone around me as if it was their fault. But God is faithful to ripping that stuff out of me, and little by little, I'm starting to see that there is a future grace I get to hold on to. He is faithful, in that nitty-gritty, I know that I know sorta way.
I just hope we can ask to see His severe mercy in our circumstances. And that's hard man, it's not a simple choice, it is supernatural, but geez, I want so badly to believe in His best good for me in that, and that begets hope that I so desperately need in my life all the time.