A pagan love turned Christward.
Sheldon Vanauken has written what some people might call an old-fashioned, and somewhat improbable, love story; improbable because it occurs in this century. But this is a true story, the story of life with his wife Davy, which ended in her early death from an obscure liver disease. “A Severe Mercy” is also the tale of two pagans turned Christian and the part that C.S. Lewis, another pagan turned Christian, played in their conversion.
That evening began my friendship with Lewis. It was a very deep friendship on my part: no man ever did so much to shape my mind, quite aside from Christianity, which of course shaped my wholes life. I have never loved a man more.
The story moves from Vanauken’s home, Glenmerle, to Hawaii during World War II, to the Florida Keys (where he and his wife lived and sailed in a small sloop), to Yale, to Virginia, and then to Oxford. There the pagan life ended and the Shining Barrier that he and Davy had put around their love at the outset of their lives together was finally threatened-not by another man or woman, not by “creeping separateness,” or money, or any of the numerous small problems that break marriages today, but by God. Davy became a Christian first, but Vanauken, confused and uncertain, hung back for a few more months. During that time he wrote to Lewis, asking his advice. Lewis replied promptly.
The contradiction ‘we must have faith to believe and must believe to have faith’ belongs to the same class as those by which the Eleatic philosophers proved that all motion was impossible. And there are many others. You can’t swim unless you can support yourself in water & you can’t support yourself in water ...1
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