Sheldon Vanauken on Comparing Ourselves to Others

If you haven’t read A Severe Mercy yet, you’ve got to. I’m not a guy who craves chick-flicks at all, but this is a love story about a man and a woman (told from the man’s point of view) and of a God and his children. It is also the story of how Vanauken befriended C. S. Lewis. There’s lots of interest here, and it’s all well-written. Do check it out.

There is a point in the story where Vanauken is contemplating the differences in the devotions of himself, his wife (Davy), and a mutual friend of theirs (Julian):

“Davy, whom I saw as far ahead of me on the Way as she saw Julian to be ahead of her, fell far short, in her own eyes, of the glory of God, as of course Julian, in his own eyes, fell short. To me, both were holy. The distance is infinity, and position is relative. Even I perhaps may have seemed holy to somebody. Some penitent villain” (p. 145).

–Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy, p. 145


Sheldon Vanauken on post-conversion letdown

Most people who have been Christian for long have experienced peaks and valleys of excitement. In his memoir A Severe Mercy, which is probably my favorite memoir of all time, Sheldon describes how his wife, Davy, and he were growing apart some time after their conversions:

I spoke on an earlier page of our love as like a fine watch that could be thrown off by a grain of dust. But this was not a grain of dust or even a mustard seed: it was the eternal God. After all, as C. S. Lewis had said, I was not finding the existence of a Master and a Judge ‘simply pleasant’. My intellectual commitment to that Master was perfectly clear, as was Davy’s. And at Oxford it had all been challenging and beautiful and exciting. But now it seemed different. Duller. Davy was simply living up to her commitment, wherever it led. For me, that was the trouble: where it led. I was ready to play in a match, Christians v. Atheists. I was ready to level my lance and charge under the Cross of Gold. I was ready to follow the King into battle. But–Sunday school? Where was the glory? Poring over the Bible–when we could be reading poetry? Where was the army of the King with banners? Where was the cathedral, beautiful and holy?

–Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy, p. 138

C. S. Lewis on Playing a Part in Conversions (from Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy)

My feeling about people in whose conversion I have been allowed to play a part is always mixed with awe and even fear: such as a boy might feel on first being allowed to fire a rifle. The disproportion between his puny finger on the trigger and thunder and lightning which follow is alarming.

–C. S. Lewis, in a letter published in Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy, p. 134

C. S. Lewis on Calling, pt. 2 (from Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy)

From a letter to a young Sheldon Vanauken from C. S. Lewis:

Look: the question is not whether we should bring God into our work or not. We certainly should and must: as MacDonald says ‘All that is not God is death.’ The question is whether we should simply (a.) Bring Him in in the dedication of our work to Him, in the integrity, diligence, and humility with which we do it or also (b.) Make His professed and explicit service our job. The A vocation rests on all men whether they know it or not; the B vocation only on those who are specially called to it. Each vocation has its peculiar dangers and peculiar rewards. Naturally, I can’t say which is yours.

–C. S. Lewis, published in Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy, p. 106

C. S. Lewis on Calling (from Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy)

I think there is a great deal to be said for having one’s deepest spiritual interest distinct from one’s ordinary duty as a student or professional man. St. Paul’s job was tent-making. When the two coincide I should have thought there was a danger lest the natural interest in one’s job and the pleasures of gratified ambition might be mistaken for spiritual progress and spiritual consolation; I think clergymen sometimes fall into this trap…. I’ve always been glad myself that Theology is not the thing I earn my living by. On the whole, I’d advise you to get on with your tent-making. The performance of a duty will probably teach you quite as much about God as academic Theology would do. Mind, I’m not certain: but that is the view I incline to.

–from a letter from C. S. Lewis, published in Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy, p. 105-106