Favorite Authors: Dorothy L. Sayers

Dorothy_L._Sayers

While I read widely and in a variety of genres, my favorite fiction books are invariably British detective stories, and the author I like best of all in that genre is Dorothy L. Sayers. I first discovered the Lord Peter Wimsey novels just after I graduated from university. I don’t remember now just how I found them, but I suspect that I was wandering in the public library after work one evening and picked one up. Or it could be that someone recommended them to me, knowing I enjoyed Agatha Christie. At that point, I had read most of Christie and was looking for a new author.

However it came about, I soon discovered how much I liked Sayers. Her plots were clever but fair. The clues were always there if you looked hard enough for them, but she didn’t make it easy for you. The first several Lord Peter novels are not great character studies. As much as I enjoyed them, Peter seemed a bit too good to be true and Bunter was almost too perfect. The mystery plots are gems though. Where else would you read about advertising agencies or change ringing (ringing of the bells in church towers)?

In each book, there is a depth of knowledge that enhances the reader’s experience. There is something to learn, something to dig into, something to be exposed to for the first time in such a way that your interest is grabbed and you can’t wait to find out more.

For instance, I had never read much about the fens and how they flood. A cricket match was a plot point in one novel, and I’ve been intrigued by the game ever since I first read about bowling and achieving a century. I suspect that Bellona Club is the origination of my interest in World War I and Remembrance Day is now a date on my calendar (Veteran’s Day for us in the U.S.). I learned that Dukes were tried by the House of Lords rather than in a regular court so that they could be tried by a jury of their peers (this right was abolished in 1948). Lord Peter novels first introduced me to first editions, the color primrose, shell shock, and the lot of a generation of unmarried women due to the numerous casualties in the Great War.

My favorite books are those with Harriet Vane. She was introduced in Strong Poison. Shockingly for the time period, she was on trial for the murder of her lover. In the 1930’s, good girls didn’t live with men who weren’t their husbands, and Harriet’s background (daughter of a country doctor) seemed to indicate that she was one of the good girls.

However, she lived in Bloomsbury and had picked up some of the Bohemian ways of that set. For a time she had set up house with an artist, but broke off with him several months before the events in Strong Poison took place. Her ex-lover was murdered, she was accused, and Lord Peter first saw her in court while she was being tried for the crime.

Harriet brings a three-dimensional character to the Wimsey books that makes them good novels as well as great detective puzzles. Her inner dialogues, choices, and interactions with Peter help to elevate the books to a higher level than most other mysteries. Gaudy Night, one of my top five favorite novels of all time, is a masterpiece of learning, character, plot, and description. When I finally had the opportunity to go to Oxford for the first time not many months after reading Gaudy Night, I walked the streets with Harriet beside me.

Busman’s Honeymoon introduced me to poetry and one of my favorite poets—John Donne. I especially enjoyed the quote game Harriet and Peter play with the police inspector. My school French was required to translate a letter written to Peter in that language. There is no translation because Sayers assumed that her readers spoke that language as many educated people did in her day.

If Sayers had just written these detective stories, she would be remembered as an author. However, she also wrote plays, essays, and produced an excellent translation of Dante. In fact, her translations of Purgatorio and Paradiso were the first I encountered and they still have a special place in my heart. Her essays are amazing, and one of my favorites, The Dogma is the Drama, is a first rate defense of the importance of theology to the Christian.

Reading Dorothy L. Sayers’s works and about her life helped me to realize that Christians can be intellectuals. I found many more Christian intellecturals afterwards, but her top notch scholarship combined with her strong Christian faith  gave me “permission” to be a thinking Christian.

I had been surrounded by Christians all my life but it was mostly those who weren’t Christians who read the Great Books and wrote strong essays and became scholars. Sayers introduced me to the grand tradition of the Christian scholar and the fact that women can be scholars, too.

Her study of medieval Italian during the air raids of World War II sent me back to my Latin and gave me the desire to read medieval literature. Her theological essays gave me the impetus to go deeper in my own theological studies. And, of course, her essay, The Lost Tools of Learning, was one of the main starting points to the eighteen years of homeschooling I did with my children. I wanted that kind of education for them. I wanted them to be as learned, as tough-minded, and as logical in their thinking as she was.

I became a scholar, a thinker, a true reader, a lover of poetry, and a writer as a result of my first picking up a mystery novel. That’s an amazing influence and the reason I place Sayers in the top five of all time best mystery novelists. She certainly earned her title as one of the Queens of Crime. I highly recommend her novels for anyone who likes detective fiction or just wants a good book to read. Who knows? You may be inspired to go off on an intellectual journey of your own as a result.

Advent

In our country, Christmas is advertised before Halloween arrives. By the first of December, the Christmas season is in full swing. Holiday parties and greetings are everywhere you go. There is extra food, gifts in the shop windows, concerts, ballets, and more.

How different this is from the traditional Advent. Like the Lenten season before Easter, Advent was a time for fasting and preparation. Preparation for the coming of the Christ was the focus as you contemplated Christ’s first coming and looked forward to His second coming. The hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel reminds us of His first coming while Joy to the World anticipates His future return to earth to reign forever.

Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which was the first Sunday in December. The first Sunday’s theme is hope, hope that our Savior will be born to us, hope in God’s promises to us that He will send a savior, hope that the baby born in a stable will transform the world. This past Sunday, the second Sunday of Advent, the theme was faith. Faith n the promises of God and in His Son, Jesus Christ, who came to take away the sin of the world.

Each day of Advent, there are hymns to sing and Scriptures to read as we hope and believe, pray and prepare our hearts for the coming Messiah. Over the years, my children and I spent time each day reading about the promises of Christ’s coming, starting in the Old Testament and ending in readings about His birth in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Advent is from the Latin word, adventus, which means coming. Two ways of counting down the time are advent calendars, where you open a door in a calendar each day of December until the 25th. Also, the Advent wreath is a traditional way of counting down. Each Sunday of Advent, a different candle is lit. The four candles stand for hope, peace, faith, and joy. On the 25th, the center candle, the Christ candle, is lit, signifying that He has arrived.

It is a time to prepare fruitcakes and cookies and other traditional fare, which are then tucked away for the great day to arrive. Christmas trees didn’t become an American and English tradition until the 19th century. For many decades, the tree was put up and lit on Christmas Eve, partly because a live tree doesn’t last long and partly because Christmas itself was not celebrated until then.

There is a song called The Twelve Days of Christmas and we sing about the many gifts that the true love gave to the singer. However, we don’t think about the meaning behind the song. In medieval times, all of the preparation of Advent led to the twelve days of Christmas in which people celebrated the Christmas season. Starting on December 25 and lasting until Twelfth Night, there were feasting and stories and celebrations throughout the twelve days.

Christmas ended when Epiphany, January 6, arrived.

One of the things I often thought I’d like to do is to celebrate the twelve days of Christmas, even if quietly and without big daily feasts and presents, but to save up the celebrating and special treats until the actual day of Christmas and the days following.

This year, as you struggle to buy the presents and prepare the cookies and candies and treats and run around to the various parties, celebrate Advent by spending some time, quietly, reverently, wondering at the coming of the Christ, who came to give His life and save His people. Find time each day to think about that wondrous gift from God and pray and ponder Him in your heart as Mary did. You will find the season has much more meaning as you think about what it really means and how you can know this baby who is the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

Reformation Day

Reformation Wall, Geneva

500 years ago today, Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg, Germany, which sparked the Protestant Reformation.  I wrote more about the event here, but I want to focus more on why the Reformation matters to us today.

Why does it matter that the Protestant Reformation happened? Will it make a difference in your life or mine?

Aside from the amazing learning and science and art and political frameworks that resulted from the Reformation, the theology that came out of the Reformation makes a difference in my daily Christian walk and can in yours, too. On my way to work last week, I was listening to this lecture by R.C. Sproul and it suddenly struck me, like it struck Luther centuries ago, that if my salvation rests on my own works, then I am lost. I cannot possibly be good enough to merit God’s acceptance on my own. But if my righteousness is not mine, but Christ’s, then I can rest in His good works, I can trust in His righteousness, and I can be saved because of His sacrifice. (Read more here.)

The Apostle Paul wrote:

I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (vv. 8b–9).

– Philippians 3:7–9

The five solas of the Reformation (Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria), that God has saved us by faith alone, that our authority is Scripture alone, that we are saved by God’s grace alone, that only Christ is our Savior, and that we live for the glory of God alone are our glorious inheritance. Let us thank God for the reminder of His great love for us in Christ, especially on this anniversary of the Reformation.

A Mighty Fortress is Our God

A mighty Fortress is our God,
A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His Name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever. — Martin Luther

April is Poetry Month – April 2

One of my favorite poets is George Herbert, especially at this time of year.  He wrote so much poetry about the Lord, the Christian life, and the Church.  I recently read an article about him, which reminded me again of why I enjoy his poetry so much.

Here is one of his poems that I particularly cherish:

“Perseverance”
My God, the poor expressions of my Love
Which warm these lines, and serve them up to Thee
Are so, as for the present I did move,
Or rather as Thou movedst me.

But what shall issue, whether these my words
Shall help another, but my judgement be;
As a burst fowling-piece doth save the birds
But kill the man, is sealed with Thee.

For who can tell, though Thou has died to win
And wed my soul in glorious paradise;
Whether my many crimes and use of sin
May yet forbid the banes and bliss.

Only my soul hangs on Thy promises
With face and hands clinging unto Thy breast,
Clinging and crying, crying without cease,
Thou art my rock, Thou art my rest.

–George Herbert

April is Poetry Month – Fourth Sunday

Here is one of my favorite poems by Christina Rossetti.  She is better known for Goblin Market and her children’s poems but I love how her devotional poems are so heartfelt and full of faith.  If I had been a literature scholar/professor, my thesis would have been how Christina Rossetti’s faith influenced and  is reflected in her poetry.

 

Weary and weak,–accept my weariness;
Weary and weak and downcast in my soul,
With hope growing less and less,
And with the goal
Distant and dim,–accept my sore distress.
I thought to reach the goal so long ago,
At outset of the race I dreamed of rest,
Not knowing what now I know
Of breathless haste,
Of long-drawn straining effort across the waste.

One only thing I knew, Thy love of me;
One only thing I know, Thy sacred same
Love of me full and free,
A craving flame
Of selfless love of me which burns in Thee.
How can I think of thee, and yet grow chill;
Of Thee, and yet grow cold and nigh to death?
Re-energize my will,
Rebuild my faith;
I will arise and run, Thou giving me breath.

I will arise, repenting and in pain;
I will arise, and smite upon my breast
And turn to Thee again;
Thou choosest best,
Lead me along the road Thou makest plain.
Lead me a little way, and carry me
A little way, and listen to my sighs,
And store my tears with Thee,
And deign replies
To feeble prayers;–O Lord, I will arise.

 

One of my favorite things about this poem is the participation of the Lord with the poet in arising.  She arises but He gives her breath and leads her and carries her and listens to her–a beautiful picture of sanctification.

Wednesdays with Words – April 23, 2014

I’m reading By Design by Susan Hunt for my Sunday School class this quarter.  It is an excellent, balanced book on God’s design for women and how they can contribute to the Church.  Here are a few quotes:

“We were created to help, not hinder. We were created to complete, not compete. Competition destroys relationships, and the writer of Proverbs said: “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (Proverbs 14:1).”

“Woman’s helper design is not so much what we do but rather who we are. It is not the only aspect of who we are, but it is an essential part of our essence. ”

“In other words, in many situations men and women may do much the same thing. But our design equips us to bring a unique perspective to that role. We put our own female spin on the particular task, and that is as it should be.”

“We must not dilute the worth of our design as women by capitulating to the voices in our culture that say we have to do the same things as men in order to have value.”

“When we join a church, we place ourselves under the authority and protection of the elders (or governing body) of that church in matters relating to church-life, realizing that the Holy Spirit has guided in their selection (Acts 20:28). We enter into a covenant relationship that involves accountability. ”

“The decision to join a church is not a social decision; it is a spiritual decision with spiritual ramifications.”

“Any genuine resurgence of Christianity, as history demonstrates, depends on a reawakening and renewal of that which is the essence of the faith-that is, the people of God, the new society, the body of Christ, which is made manifest in the world-the Church. “