It broke my life wide open, broke my heart with joy and beauty, breathed a brisk wind into the sails of my deepest, most intrinsic, most instinctive longings. The book itself is so precious to me I can hardly bear to write about it. I feel so jealous over it, so careful for the pure, golden-hearted rose of friendship it extended to both of us—indeed, a sacred thing. It represents beauties to me which I could never articulate to another living soul but Philip. And that’s allright. I don’t need to in order to tell this story. But ten years ago, A Severe Mercy brought me to my knees—I type the very title with a catch in my throat—and from that low place, I looked upon Love itself.And here is something written in the afterward of the book, A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanuaken himself:
And so, that plunge into darkness and the light that I found there was an experience I mark time from. Reading A Severe Mercy gave me back my Christianity as high romance, as beauty and longing and pilgrimage along which love might goad my heart with gladness. It helped me recover myself from a rubble of accumulated expectations, helped me see that my soul is more gypsy than I’d imagined. Most importantly, it convinced me that what I’m really longing for in all I love is Christ himself and that a life of love to him could be one of such adventure that the fairy tales of my childhood paled in comparison. Love God and do what you will, wrote Augustine so famously. I began, finally, to dare to believe that the two were not mutually exclusive.
Upon publication the theological faculty of the college graciously laid on a reception in the book’s honour. In the midst of the gaiety, first one person and then another would draw me apart to tell me, sometimes with misty eyes, how much the book had meant. I was touched, but there was something faintly odd that I couldn’t quite place. Suddenly it came to me: they were speaking, each of them, as though they – and they alone – had been stabbed to the heart. So I thanked them as though they were indeed the only one. Later the letters and telephone calls flooding in from everywhere, and these folk, too, spoke as though they felt that only they could have been penetrated to the depths of their being, thus making us kindred. So we were, but in broader kinship than they knew. It is, I think that we are all so alone in what lies deepest in our souls, so unable to find the words and perhaps the courage to speak, with unlocked hearts, that we do not know at all that it is the same with others. And since I had been compelled, somewhat reluctantly, to go beyond reticence, readers were moved to kinship with one they felt to be the only other being who also knew.I may disappear altogether until I am finished.