Letters Within Letters

In the past year I have had the opportunity to revive a dying art, the art of letter-writing. With telephones and email, and chat rooms, the purpose of the hand-written, stamped letter appears to have faded away. But it hasn't. Unless you have experienced a good, thoughtful, loving letter, a letter from someone you can honestly call a friend, I don't think I can explain to you the joy of letters. It is not something that can be explained. You have to feel it for yourself.

You may remember that Anna is among my few contacts. If you did not know or did not remember, you know now. She far exceeds me in intellect and faith, and I'm enormously glad to be able to putter in her footsteps.

She recently borrowed a book by Dorothy Sayers called Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine and, coming across several beautiful passages, she filled her latest letter to me with them. I do not have Sayers' book (sad to say) but I have that letter, and as I fully believe sound Christian doctrine to be relevant, and as I believe the passages Anna copied down are potent, I would like to share them.

"We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine - dull dogma, as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man - and the dogma is the drama."

and again

"So that is the outline of the official story - the tale of the time when God was the underdog and got beaten, when he submitted to the conditions he had laid down and became a man like the men he had made, and the men he had made broke him and killed him. This is the dogma we find so dull - this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and hero.

"If this is dull, then what, in Heaven's name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore - on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him "meek and mild," and recommended him for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand."

and still further

"That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed. Any journalist, hearing of it for the first time, would recognize it as news; those who did hear it for the first time actually called it news, and good news at that; though we are likely to forget that the word Gospel ever meant anything so sensational.

"Perhaps the drama is played out now, and Jesus is safely dead and buried. Perhaps. It is ironical and entertaining to consider that at least once in the world's history those words might have been spoken with complete conviction, and that was upon the eve of the Resurrection."

in conclusion

"Somehow or other, and with the best intentions, we have shown the world the typical Christian in the likeness of a crashing and rather ill-natured bore - and this in the Name of the One who assuredly never bored a soul in those thirty-three years during which he passed through this world like a flame."

This, as Abigail pointed out in The Truth of a Fairytale, is what story we hold to, what actions define our faith, what deeds of consummation God wrought on which we pin our hope of glory. It is not dull. Faint whispers, so faint they were hardly heard, and never understood, of such a thing were the preamble to this drama, but who would have believed it?

Well, we do.

6 ripostes:

  1. Beautiful. I think my favourite lines were these:

    "The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man - and the dogma is the drama."

    and

    "The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore - on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe."

    and

    "...the One who assuredly never bored a soul in those thirty-three years during which he passed through this world like a flame."

    ^.^

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  2. I think you picked out all my favourite lines as well, especially the last one.

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  3. Ooh! Abigail struck upon my favorites, too... If you'll pardon a bit o' wordplay, the last one gave me tremendous chills. And then the paragraph on the Gospel being /good news/... ^.^

    But yes, I highly recommend this leetle book. Though the series of essays is badly constructed by (what strikes me as, begging his or her pardon; I am sure they /meant/ well) an ineptitude of an editor, the essays themselves are full of gems, and Sayers is swiftly becoming one of my favorites for more than merely Wimsey. I suppose it's a good thing I'm /not/ there right now, for you wouldn't be able to make me shut up about her.

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  4. I'm not sure there is any good reason for you not being here. Maybe there is, but I haven't found it yet.

    I would greatly like to expand my selection of Sayers. Greatly. In fact, I think I must. Abigail has Strong Poison and Gaudy Night, of course, which I can borrow, but I want some of her non-fiction as well.

    What would I do without you to show up the discrepancies in my library? :P

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  5. Much to your mingled delight and despair, I am happy to report that I can't wait to write your next letter and drop sprigs of squeefire concerning 'The Man Born To Be King' all over it... 'tisn't reading the Gospels themselves, of course, but very like what you were saying...

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  6. Ack! I have yet to scrawl a reply to you! I must remedy this discrepancy tomorrow afternoon.

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