In Spite of Not Believing in Reincarnation . . .

Wordy Wednesday
I might be able to squeeze me in somewhere around Jane Austen or Shakespeare. Otherwise, I don't really fit into this map . . .

Apart from Austen and Shakespeare, I probably would have put different people in this map. But that’s just me, I guess . . .

When biographers write about writers and artists and musicians, they often–directly or indirectly–mention the influences that other writers and artists and musicians had on their subject. I always think these sorts of connexions are interesting–more interesting than modern-day networking (although I love my The Readership–believe me, I do–and all those of you who poke at me and prod me and remind me that, if I’m writing into a void, it’s not the kind of void that I thought void meant), because these are connexions that can span time and space and even life and death. Sometimes these Influences are conscious and sometimes they’re not, and that’s interesting, too.

I feel like I’m pretty aware of most of my Influences, and I may take this lull-before-finding-out-if-that-solitary-and-kind-literary-agent-actually-wants-to-flog-my-book to talk about some of them, but today I’m going to talk about the one that I’ve only recently become aware is an Influence. Actually, I’m not sure that’s even the word. I’ve been aware of her for ages, and I’ve read and enjoyed some of her writing, but it might be more accurate to say that, rather than an Influence on me, I am an echo of her. There are some distinct differences between us, but the similarities are legitimately bizarre.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to Dorothy L. Sayers.

Dorothy L Sayers: Her Life and Soul, by Barbara Reynolds

If you REALLY want to know about her, you should just read this book.

One night, two seminary terms ago, we had a particularly rousing theological discussion in my Systematic Theology class and I suggested, only moderately facetiously, that we should all go out to a pub afterwards and continue our discussion over a beer. I was thinking in terms of the Inklings, and I was also considering I might be the only woman there (there are other–fantastic–women in my class, but for some reason the only one of them I could imagine hanging out with a bunch of men–and me–over beers to talk theology, lives about an hour away, and it was getting late), and suddenly it occurred to me that, although I wasn’t sure Dorothy Sayers ever actually hung out with the Inklings (she didn’t), I could, like her, be a token woman writer-theologian (who isn’t Rachel Held Evans), in the sense that . . . well, she was one, and she had male theologian friends, because there just aren’t that many  orthodox female theologians.

Then in the following term we had to research some spiritual “parents” in the faith, and without even knowing that I was beginning to mentally ally myself with this woman, our Centre director suggested I research her, so I did. In doing so, I found out that if I were able to bring myself to believe in reincarnation (which I’m not), I might be fairly confident as to who I had been in my immediately previous life. It’s not that there aren’t differences between me and this British woman of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. There are some pretty significant ones. It’s just that the similarities are really unusual. Here are a few of both:

Similar: We were both pastor’s daughters.

Different: She was an only child. I have TheBro–although it is arguable that both TheBro and I have some “only child” characteristics, perhaps because of the space of years between us.

Similar: Sayers and I each used to tell ourselves stories to fall asleep as small children–sometimes aloud. We also both strongly identified with certain characters in books we read–into our teen years, if not beyond. Sometimes we would act them out. Sayers seems to have been much more overt and flambuoyant about this than I was.

Different: As a teen, Sayers was uncomfortable with the trappings of religion; that didn’t happen to me until later.

Similar: On the other hand, we were both inspired by story and myth and the idea that the Christ story fulfilled these.

Similar: We both had, perhaps, a tendency to overshare with our parents.

Different: Although she did some teaching, Sayers didn’t do the child-centric, world-traveling, job-hopping thing that I’ve done: she taught briefly, worked in advertising for almost a decade (awesome classic Guiness ads, anyone?) and then spent the rest of her working life actually making a living as a writer–initially through detective novels, which I don’t think I could or would ever write–although hers are quite enjoyable to read.

I used to like Guinness. I'll always like these ads.

I used to like Guinness. I’ll always like these ads.

Similar: We each endured a somewhat long-term, heartbreaking, passionate but “unconsummated”–due to our personal scruples (somewhat different ones, but both related to being Christians)–relationship with complicated men who did not share our faith or, necessarily, values.

Different: Sayers rebounded by letting some other dude knock her up. I rebounded in a fortunately very short-lived encounter with a sociopath.

Similar: We each subsequently met intelligent, word-conscious men whom we each married after a surprisingly brief courtship–possibly to the perplexity, though not opposition, of our parents.

Different: I intend, by the grace of God, for my marriage to end up more happily than Sayers’ did–and I think this is possible both by that grace and because of the fact that my Paul would be delighted, rather than jealous, were I to become a self-sustaining writer. Also? So far things here on the Pond just keep getting more awesome. Please God, and let it so continue.

Similar: At some point, Sayers got the theology bug. She was completely unabashed about this, and although it worked its way into some of her earlier writings, she consciously wrote about theology and through theology when she was older. “The dogma of the Incarnation,” she said, “is the most dramatic thing about Christianity, and indeed, the most dramatic thing that ever entered into the mind of man; but if you tell people so, they stare at you in bewilderment . . . “*

Are you staring at me in bewilderment yet? Because seriously, The Readership. This is what I want to do. I want to keep writing words about God, through essay and article and memoir, certainly, but especially through story. I knew CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein did it. But it’s kind of simultaneously comforting and inspiring to know that there was at least one woman out there already who knew how to do this, too.

* Sayers, Dorothy L., as quoted in Barbara Reynolds, Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997.

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13 thoughts on “In Spite of Not Believing in Reincarnation . . .

  1. Okay, I will only focus on the juicy details: You’re a Pastor’s daughter, who has had a turbulent–although short-lived– relationship with a “sociopath” and now you’re married to a good man and like to discuss theology in a pub over a few beers…. Hmmm.. Interesting.

    And I completely missed the point about reincarnation. Did this Dorothy believe in Reincarnation? I don’t think Bible supports reincarnation unless the birth of Christ is seen as Jehovah reincarnated or something! ……

    • Hmm–yeah, I think I mention reincarnation a little more blatantly originally and then edited out that section and forgot to put it back in somewhere else. No, Sayers wouldn’t have believed in reincarnation either. My point is that she and I have so many weird similarities (I didn’t, in fact, list all of them), that if I DID believe in it, I would be tempted to think I had been her in a former life.

      Also–was it equally unclear that the longish-term tumultuous relationship and the short-term relationship with the sociopath were NOT THE SAME? Eek. I’ll have to go in and fix that, too.

  2. This was a great post. The Inklings rocked! I think one of the best ways to reach people who don’t know Jesus is through stories. Jesus thought so too since He taught in parables. Stories appeal to people. They are more apt to embrace the concept of Jesus in a story and once that happens you can talk to them about Him on a deeper level. I think what you want to do sounds wonderful. Keep writing your stories and people will come…

    • Yeah, I agree. I think the trick (which Sayers and the Inklings mastered but, in my opinion or experience, not many other Christians have) is to avoid making the story simply the vehicle of a sermon, and instead for the story itself to BE the message. Still working on that one . . .

  3. I agree with Rajiv in that the encounter with the sociopath raised my eyebrow.
    I am not familiar with her work but you made me curious. I wonder what it was like, decades ago to be female and set out with a basically orthodox mind set. Were there people who said, “You, as a woman, have no right teaching these things?” When we contemplate discrimination from years past, it’s easy to focus on the wrongs done directly to the victim… but I also find myself wondering about the ways we are all impoverished. What if there was another Jenn with 2 N’s/ Dorothy Sayers out there, writing furiously away in the quiet and darkness of her room, who didn’t have the courage to combat sexism and so we will never know of — and therefore be blessed by– her work? (Sorry if I digressed here.)

    • Not a digression–or at least, not an unwanted one. I do think that that’s the fall-out from discrimination, similar to, say, the fall-out from holding a grudge and not forgiving someone. It’s the person putting up the barriers who is impoverished.

      Interestingly, although in a lot of ways Sayers was something of a groundbreaking feminist, I think the limits people tried to put on her had nothing to do with the apostle Paul’s confusing injunctions about women in the Bible, but more to do with social mores in general. She was definitely an intellectual, so the boundaries she pushed were more in that realm than the religious one. She was one of the first women to graduate from Oxford, for example. (I think her situation with having a child out of wedlock–which it doesn’t seem to me she handled very well, although I think she tried) was pretty adversely affected by the limitations put on women. Fortunately for her and the world, Sayers was pretty stubborn and had definite ideas about things, as well as some confidence in her own capabilities, so she just went and did stuff. By the time she started writing theology, she was already well-known for her other writing, so people sought her out for her theological thoughts, more than telling her she shouldn’t have them or teach them or whatever. At least, that’s the impression I got from this biography.

      As for “my” sociopath–I can’t remember if you were going to Life Group during that extremely brief flirtation with disaster . . . it only lasted a month, thank God, but I don’t think I’m exaggerating with the label.

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