Here are some excerpts from The Living Church obituary for P(hyllis) D(orothy) James (1/4/15), the great English detective writer, by Sue Careless, a journalist who lives in Toronto. I find the first excerpt particularly telling, and the rest of them deeply wise and soul-strengthening:
“Archbishop Runcie appointed James to the Church of England’s liturgical commission, but James said, ‘I don’t think they wanted my opinion on anything.’ James considered the Anglican Service Book that the committee produced ‘banal’ and ‘not worthy of the church.’ “
Just so. If we are not listening to P. D. James or–in a previous generation–W. H. Auden, who are we listening to? Whoever they are, they have no sense of the power of language.
” ‘The mystery novel is a modern morality play,’ she told me[Sue Careless] in an interview in 1998. ‘It is about the restoration of order out of disorder and about the attempts of human beings to achieve justice, even though the justice they achieve is only the terrible justice of men and not the divine justice of God.’ Her 14th novel, A Certain Justice, particularly underscores this point.”
“James was brought up with Christian faith. Her parents took her weekly to evensong, where young Phyllis found the prayer book more interesting than the sermon…
” ‘[At school] we were required to learn by heart the collects for the week, those short prayers where great subtleties of meaning are expressed concisely and simply..I doubt whether the discipline improved our behaviour, but it certainly opened one child’s imagination to the richness and beauty of English prose…’ “
Speaking of the difficult decades with a shell-shocked invalid husband, ‘They are over and must be accepted, made sense of and forgiven, afforded no more than their proper place in a long life in which I have always known that happiness is a gift, not a right.”
She described herself as ‘a communicant member of the Church of England, but not a very good Christian.’ She explained, ‘living in conformity to the gospel of Christ makes huge demands on us and, in all humility, very few of us can say that, in that sense, we are good Christians.’ “
“She said her religious life is ‘really dominated by worship and gratitude. I do, in my prayers night and morning, always thank God for bringing me through the night to a wonderful day and I pray that I can live each day with love, with gratitude, with courage, and with generosity.’ “
She said that she thought her dystopian novel Children of Men “will last.” Having just read it, I certainly agree.