Friday, August 15, 2008

Poetry Friday: If Everything is Lost

At about this time last year, I posted about A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. (I haven't been able to find any more recent news on the making of the movie, which is to be written by Barbara Nicolosi.)

Sometimes when people read this book they are taken with the love story between Van and Davy. But, if one doesn't move beyond that, one misses the whole point of the book. The "Shining Barrier" that Vanauken describes was a misshapen, misinformed love, and the fact that it had to be shattered at some point, in some way, becomes clear. If you haven't read the book, definitely put it on your "to read" list. The letters from C.S. Lewis alone are worth it.

Coincidentally, this week one of our priests reminded me of a short poem from the book. What I love about this poem is its straightforward treatment of what a severe mercy is, the seeming paradox. Why would we thank God for losing everything? For the same reason that Sheldon Vanauken was eventually able to thank Him for the most enormous loss in his life. Vanauken was, as C.S. Lewis said, "treated with a severe mercy" (a phrase that comes originally from St. Augustine, who also knew what it meant to be stripped of everything -- read the quote here in this post at Church of the Masses) that helped him to see that ultimately, we can put nothing before God. And, ultimately, we wouldn't want to. Having experienced my own severe mercies, I can only say, "thanks be to God."

If Everything is lost

If everything is lost, thanks be to God
If I must see it go, watch it go,
Watch it fade away, die
Thanks be to God that He is all I have.
And if I have Him not, I have nothing at all.
Nothing at all, only a farewell to the wind
Farewell to the grey sky
Goodbye, God be with you, evening October sky.
If all is lost, thanks be to God,
For He is He, and I, I am only I.

-- Dom Julian

(H/T to Fr. Scott.)

The round-up this week is at the home of Poetry Friday founder, Big A little a.

For more details on Poetry Friday, see this post.


Anonymous said...

Years ago, I read this book. I need to again, after reading your poem and reflection. Thanks for this...

nutmeg said...

Love the poem, and read the book eons ago, in college. I loved the Shining Barrier poem as well, but of course, could not agree with their "pact".
Thanks for reminding me about this beautiful book.

jama said...

Thanks for the heads up on this book, and the beautiful poem.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I am not familiar with this book or poem though I have heard the phrase. I enjoyed this poem very much. It reminds of something I read of Spurgeon, based on Hebrews 12:26-27 ("Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain," along the lines that God sometimes allows everything in life to be shaken so that after everything falls away, and all we have left is Him, we find He is enough.

Liz said...

A Severe Mercy and it's sequel are among the books that my daughter recommends to her best friends (I, of course, was the one who recommended them to her in the first place). The one regret I have is that I did not purchase the next book by Vanauken when it first came out, because it quickly went out of print and is now terribly expensive (when you can find it at all) and hence we've never managed to get our hands on it.

Vanauken was a wonderful writer and his story of how human love as wonderful as it is cannot compete with God's love is marvelously told. However, one should be warned that this book will almost certainly bring you to tears.

Sara said...

Okay, on my list it goes. How did I miss it, when I obsessively read all of C.S. Lewis in high school and college? The movie sounds intriguing, too...

TimL said...

Thanks for posting this!!