A Severe Mercy

At the end of this week we will pack up and head to the Midwest for Christian’s memorial service. Last night Jason pulled out a bunch of photos of the guys of Big Pink – Christian, Jordan, Rich and himself (along with some photos of a hideously-dressed version of Jason at the age of 15 or 16). We sat there at our kitchen table and laughed after a long day. I felt like I knew Jason a little bit more when I saw the guys holed up at the Foosball table, knowing Jason was behind the camera. And, having never met Christian, I got yet another tiny glimpse into his life on this earth.

Today I am home and still in my pajamas, immersed in a book that Jason put in front of me several weeks ago and told me he wanted me to read. I don’t remember what prompted his request, but I imagine it had to do with fear–fear of losing Jason as Liz just lost Christian. A fear of being left alone or being with someone and still feeling very alone. A fear of the aloneness of not really knowing (logos-knowing) the living God.

The book is A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. It was not surprise to me, as Jesus has been chasing me down to read it for over a year now. First it was Keisha. Then my Minnesota friend, Colin. Then Jason, then others. Now Jason again.

What did surprise me was when Jason told me he had bought the book several months ago and was waiting for the right time to give it to me. He said it would scare the hell out of me, make me weep, and cause me to question many things, most particularly God.

This had to be Him. And because it was, I took it with trepidation. At the same time, because it was a book (one which would surely change my life) I took it devouringly. I only vaguely told Jason how I felt.

I have sat on our new velvety brown couch for a good part of the afternoon weeping as I read. I know the book has changed me but I’m in so much shock that I’m not quite sure how. I don’t know what God is doing in this not-made-up story, but I know that I not only wept for the sadness of it all, but for my own fears what God could possibly do and what He did indeed do in the lives of Christian and Liz Skoglund. More fear and idolatry. And also, a faint understanding of the beauty that can come from something so unnatural as death. I can only mildly grasp it now as it is displayed on book pages, and because, on top of that, I am so very inexperienced.

“If she died, I might–since, under God, I must not act to follow her–I might live for years. Those years and all of beauty they might contain I put into the ball. And then I offered-up all of it to the King: take all I have ever dreamed, all I may ever long for including the death I shall certainly long for: I offer it up, oh Christ, for her, for her best good, death or life. This was my offering-up. I asked God to take all, all that was or would ever be, in holy exchange, not for her spared life which would be my good but not perhaps hers, but for her good, whatever it might be. Later I would pray that she might recover only if it were for her good. That offering-up was perhaps the most purely holy and purely loving act of my life.” (158-159)

For various different reasons, this is a season in which the reality of death is a re-occurring theme. Sometimes I fear it is one of being prepared to encounter death in some way, shape, or form in another future season. I guess I can be guaranteed of that. Learning to continue to live joyfully and not in fear of loss is a challenge in and of itself.

I am not yet to the end of the tale–only in the grief. I am hoping I find hope. It is present even now in the story, but there has got to be more .


One response to “A Severe Mercy

  1. I’ve wanted to read that book for like a decade now… maybe I finally will.

    I appreciate that you identify death as “unnatural.” In 2005 I had 3 people close to me die. My father, a close brother in Christ (who actually shot himself) and my husband’s grandma. The biggest consolation I could find was in the fact that our loving Father didn’t intend for us to ever deal with death. He didn’t want adam and eve to ever feel the loss and grief, so it’s ok that we don’t feel like we can handle it. We weren’t created with that ability. It drove me strait to the throne of God in brokenness and recognition that His plan for us is so much greater than what we settle for down here.

    Death can only make our anticipation of the abolition of all the wrongs we have to deal with that much greater… and that time is coming soon. Soon He will fix the world.

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