“Inloveness is a gift of the gods, but then it is up to the lovers to cherish or to ruin. … We loved our love. And we were determined that it should endure.” So begins Sheldon Vanauken’s poignant sketch of his and his wife’s extraordinary romance, which ended in their conversion to Christianity. Both Sheldon and Davy treasured their love as their most precious possession, vowing to shield and nourish it with all their strength. Three of their principles, outlined in Vanauken’s memoir A Severe Mercy, find apt parallels in the spiritual life.
First, the standard of “total sharing”: “‘What we must do now is share everything. Everything! If one of us likes anything, there must be something to like in it — and the other one must find it. … That way we shall create a thousand strands, great and small, that will link us together.’ … Through sharing we would keep the magic of inloveness.” Do I share my life with God? Do I tell Him what is going on? Do a thousand strands link me to Him each moment of the day, in joy and sadness, fulfillment and emptiness?
And do I try to share in what He loves? Christ loved the Scriptures. He carved time from His busy schedule to commune with His Father. He relished listening to others and healing them. Do we read Scripture and make time for prayer; do we listen to others and try to heal their wounds? Are we keeping the magic of inloveness?
The Vanaukens also established what they termed the “Navigators’ Council,” a once- or twice-monthly inquiry into the state of the relationship. “Were we fully sharing? Was there any sign of creeping separateness?” Decisions were guided by the “Appeal to Love”: “What will be best for our love? Should one of us change a pattern of behaviour that bothered the other?” Our Navigators’ Council is our examination of conscience in preparation for confession: how healthy is our friendship with God? Is there a pattern of sin we need to uproot?
Finally, Sheldon and Davy agreed upon “total trust”: “the only sort of marriage we should even be interested in would be one of such love that unfaithfulness would be impossible.” God’s trust in us is breathtaking: He gives us His Scriptures and the teaching of the Church to guide us, a Holy Father to whom to be loyal, the sacraments through which He reaches us in scent and word and touch. He gives us His Son, utterly vulnerable in the Eucharist. Do we trust God in return? Do we trust that His plan for our life is best, that He is faithful, that He knows and loves us better than we know and love ourselves?
“When we first fell in love in the dead of winter, we said, ‘If we aren’t more in love in lilactime, we shall be finished.’ But we were more in love: for love must grow or die.” May our love for God grow ever deeper and stronger.
Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.