Monday, March 3, 2014

Part IV: The relevance of "The End of the Affair" and "A Severe Mercey" to the Gabriel series

Here is the last installment of the discussion of "The End of the Affair" and "A Severe Mercy." Terry, Efrat and Susan talk about the books' importance to SR's writing - specifically, "Gabriel's Inferno" and "Gabriel's Rapture."

PART IV – The Relevance of the books to the Gabriel series

Terry: I think that both A Severe Mercy and The End of The Affair are little ploys SR uses to bring out the “SR side” of the Gabriel character, and of course, the message fits. From the little we know about SR, I do believe he is a person of strong faith and I love that the books reflect that in their own way. At the same time, I think it’s okay to hate God once in a while. He can take it. And love and hate run along the same emotional pathway. What we don’t see in Gabriel or Maurice is apathy. Then I think God would be worried. 

Susan: I do agree that Gabriel has always been a believer. I think he viewed himself as unworthy of any love, even love from God. Gabriel thought of himself as a lost soul, and I think that’s why he sank so deeply into his vices: if he couldn’t enjoy the spiritual pleasures, he may as well enjoy the pleasures of the body. And he knew what he was doing was wrong, but he continued it until he began his relationship with Julia because he thought that’s merely what he deserved. Julia’s compassion, grace, and acceptance showed him greater spiritual possibility than he’d ever considered. I think that may also be why he started to worry that they were putting their love for each other ahead of a greater love of God. Maybe he was just trying to find a way to balance the two?

Efrat: I actually saw this as more of a thematic pull between lust vs. love, spiritual and holy love of God vs. the carnal love of Man, which appears in all three books we’re discussing here, and part of the journeys all these characters go through.

In one of Gabriel and Julia’s discussions, they discuss The End of The Affair and A Severe Mercy, after having read both books. What comes out of this discussion is the fear that, much like the Vanaukens, they might be making an idol of each other – a pagan worship, which is far from holy. Both The End of The Affair and A Severe Mercy make this point very clear – the love of God comes first, and is a predecessor to any other type of love. In Assisi (Gabriel’s Rapture), Gabriel realizes this is true, when he finds inner peace with finding God.

Terry: I think what all three authors (Greene, Vanauken, and SR) are trying to emphasize is that you really can “love too much.” We can get literary and say that love can become paganistic, or we can think of it in real-life terms and say that you can easily place yourself on a path to self-destruction when the object of your love takes over every aspect of your life. For one thing, it’s not healthy. For another, that becomes obsession, not love. It stifles both people involved.

Efrat: It’s interesting you say “love too much”, Terry, because Dante discusses this in The Divine Comedy as well. In “Purgatorio” Dante discusses cases of too little love, too much love and evil love, their consequences and overcoming these sins. But that’s a separate discussion. Or blog post.

But going back to this point, that Sarah cuts off her affair with Maurice after she made a deal with God, can actually be looked at as a form of self-punishment – either for loving too much, putting too much emphasis on their pagan love or even more so – the sin of overruling the 7th commandment - Thou shall not commit adultery.

Susan: Exactly! Gabriel and Julia broke a "commandment" of the university: the prohibition against a professor having a personal relationship with a student. They paid for it, but in the end, their relationship was stronger and better for their separation. I don't think the same can be said of Maurice and Sarah.

Terry: OY!! That “rule” has annoyed me for years!!! I can tell you lots of stories about grad students and professors…. (blushes). Sorry for the interruption. lol.

Susan: Not at all. Preach it, girlfriend! (Pun intended.) I also think Sarah’s guilt runs deeper in that she felt guilty at turning her back on the religion she was baptized in. And she must have had some kind of faith all along, even if it's a faith that's borne of desperation when she thinks Maurice was killed after the door fell on him. She bargains with God, but how can you bargain with a deity if you don't believe He or She exists?

Efrat: Do tell Terry… I’m all ears! *grabs popcorn bucket*

I took Sarah’s doings as an act of desperation, and as a way to save a loved one - a sacrifice she had to make. This is also similar to the story of Abelard and Heloise, which parallels Gabriel and Julia as well. Both Abelard and Heloise sacrificed their love for one another (willingly or not) in favor of the love of God, and in a way, they both had to fight God for each other. Of course, we're talking about different times here, but the theme is the same - sacrifice the love of man for the love of God.

And thank YOU Terry, for inspiring me to read The Letters of Abelard and Heloise with your enlightening post!! (pssst people, if you hadn’t read it – please do!)

Terry: You are quite welcome! Playing devil’s advocate here, I’d propose to you both that there is not one person on this earth that hasn’t bargained with God, at least once. That’s what Sarah is doing. Bargaining with God usually means a sacrifice of some sort. As it turns out, God gave her what she asked for, and then she had to live up to her end of the bargain. And, I think Heloise might disagree with you! She was none too happy about being hidden away in a convent.

Efrat: Perhaps. Some call that bargaining - ‘prayer’.

Terry: Hmm, not sure I agree with your statement, Efrat. I think that real prayer is asking God for something but in the end, accepting that He may not answer your prayer in the way you want for reasons not in our understanding. Bargaining, on the other hand, is saying to God, “if you grant this, I’ll sacrifice that.”

Maybe that’s because there really is no bargaining, you just think there is. In all three stories, God was running the show. Maurice, Gabriel, and Vanauken just *thought* they were. And that leaves the innocent to get hurt as far as the protagonists of all three books are concerned.

Susan:I agree with you about how everyone, sooner or later, bargains with God, even if that person doesn’t believe that He or She exists. It’s a true act of desperation. I wonder sometimes how God views that?

I mentioned this in my Goodreads review of Gabriel’s Rapture but I think it bears repeating here. Julia and Gabriel went through a very difficult and prolonged enforced separation, but in the end, I think they were better for it. I think they needed that time to grow and reflect on what had happened, and what they wanted – individually and as a couple – before they could have a healthy relationship. So as hard as it was for them to go through the University hearing and then have to leave each other, the entire ordeal forced them to look closely at many aspects of their relationship that they might not have considered. And in that sense, they came out much better than Sarah and Maurice, Sheldon and Davy, and Abelard and Heloise. Julia and Gabriel had the chance to come back to each other and create an even better, healthier life together.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our conversation, or have found an inspiration to read these novels. Please let us know your thoughts! We’d love to hear from you!


Renata said...

Dears Su, Terry and Efrat, great post. Another time, I need to thank you for sharing with us your thoughts and your chat, I really enjoyed this!!

Well... like Efrat and Terry can atest for our email debate about Heloise and Abelard, I'm wordy, but I will try not to be...

Prayer, IMO, is asking God to do something , but always trusting that in the end, God's wisdom and his infinite love will make His will the best thing for us , " that Your will be done , not mine."

On the books , I have the opinion that they show us the different ways in which men and women can face human love and love of God . The different ways to integrate these two loves can lead to final and completely different lives. In each story (Abelard and Heloise including) the various conceptions of how to integrate these two types of love, toward God and toward his beloved, outline ways of life and different consequences.

I would guess that the real issue common to all these books and Gabriel trilogy is even one reflection. How it is possible (or not, and their consequences ) integrate the love of God and the love to your beloved, so that both do not conflict . How humans can live a life where you can experience the greatest and transcendent love , in human love (physical, sexual ) and in the love of God , and those two things do not exclude each other , but in an unite and harmonic form , not conflictive.

Always touches me the very idea that SR books make me reflect on us, human beings , we both: soul and body and this two “aspects” are inseparable and that perhaps the attempt to treat both dimensions separately is perhaps our biggest mistake.

Well , excuse my dirty english, and could not be clearer . My intention was to participate with you in this wonderful conversation and thank you for your attention and affection. One day I 'll catch a plane just to talk to you personally about all this, Ladies! Will need a lot of tea (or coffee)… Guess I'll have to go in winter ... so nobody will sorry to spend hours and hours talking inside the house ... LOL

Unknown said...

Thank you all for your delightful posts. However, I tend to agree with Renata's concepts. I believe SR enjoys this discussion of ideas amongst his readers and most ardent followers. Isn't this a Professor's objective to spur debate? After having nuns throughout my education, I wish I had a Professor such as SR to ignite a fire in me. (And, I don't mean sexually). :)

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