It was at an Open Day at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London, and as often happens with such jolly events, I had soon reached my limit of fun. A glance at my wristwatch confirmed my sense that I had sufficiently mixed and mingled, and so, adjusting my collar, I drifted towards the door of the room, with its high ceiling and oil portraits of Prime Ministers, and made an unobtrusive exit.
As also often happens at such events, upon my exit I made a wrong turn and realized I was wandering down the wrong corridor only when I was several yards along it. At the end of the dim corridor was an open door. Even more encouraging than this light at the end of the tunnel, from beyond the door was the sound of porcelain, of cup and saucer, to be precise.
Inside the room sat a blond, clean-shaven man of about forty; he was alone at a small table by a window overlooking Marlborough House. He was elegantly turned out, a crisp grey Savile Row suit, summer tie, and cuff links bearing a heraldic device I could not quite make out. He adjusted his monocle and fixed me with an appraising eye.
“You look as though you could do with a spot of tea, Padre,” he said, indicating a chair and pouring me a cup. “Earl Grey. The tea, not me, don’t you know, what?”
After introducing myself, he said he was frightfully sorry and from then on called me Dom. Smoothing over his understandable faux pas, he changed the subject: “Dashed fine place, though not my usual haunt. Still, in my day, no women allowed. Awkward, that, especially since my wife was up at Oxford as well. Shrewsbury. Balliol man, myself. Then there’s dear Dorothy, who was at Somerville. I dare say, not to go in for melodrama, but I don’t know where my wife and I would be without her.”
And so it was from him that I learned about a theological book by Dorothy L. Sayers, his “dear Dorothy,” The Mind of the Maker (1941). “She made much the same point,” he added, “the next year in a talk she gave, ‘Creative Mind,’ then published it in a clever collection of essays called Unpopular Opinions.”
Her point was that we can get a glimpse into the Trinity by using the analogy of a creative writer, say, a writer of detective fiction. She proposed, for the sake of argument, using the terms Idea, Energy, and Power. As a thought experiment it unclouded our considerations of any difficulty we might have with the biblical terminology of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Liturgically, she would have sharply rejected the politically correct substitution of Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.
Keeping in mind that analogies limp, for the writer of a crime story, the story begins in the writer’s mind as an Idea; the writing of the story is the Energy; the story’s full force or Power comes only when someone else reads it, interacts with it. How she related that literary analogy to God creating the world is God having the Idea of creation, then the act or Energy of creation, and then His creatures powerfully interacting with Him in prayer and interacting with each other to continue His creation.
“For me,” he said, “an example closer to home might do. I’d say it’s like this tea. One has an Idea of a good cuppa; one then expends the Energy to make the tea; but tea isn’t tea unless someone drinks it, giving it its full Power, even if it’s the caffeine, what?”
Of course, I mused, we’re limited because we can think of something, have an Idea or ideal, only because we’ve already had an experience of it. We can have an Idea of a good cup of tea because we’ve had good cups of tea. We’ve also had bad cups of tea, thus sharpening our appreciation of what makes a good cup of tea good. God has no such limitation; as the Bible says, He created the world out of nothing.
“Just so,” he agreed, adding, “and God’s got a perfect understanding of all His creations or creatures, whichever word one prefers, whereas the writer of detective fiction might not always understand her own creations or creatures. To take an example from The Mind of the Maker, where she so kindly mentions me a time or two, she describes me as ‘an eighteenth-century Whig gentleman, born a little out of his time.’ Well, as I told my sister, Mary, when she dragged me into that business about Uncle Meleager’s will, ‘I’m a Tory if anything.’ All the same, I suppose it’s best to leave it to others to decide if I have more in common with Edmund Burke or Sir Roger de Coverley.”
Preferring not to adjudicate in his presence which eighteenth-century Whig or Tory he most resembled, I noted instead that the point about us creatures co-operating in God’s creation was worth pursuing. After all, I said, God declared, “Let there be light,” and there was light. When we say, “Let’s have some tea,” behind those simple monosyllables looms a vast array of people.
For us to have tea there in that room, we were dependent most obviously on the club’s staff, but also on the building’s architects, masons, and carpenters. Then on the people who cultivated and harvested the tea; the people who shipped it and stored it, packed and sold it. The packing and selling called to mind a host of artists and advertisers, accountants and attorneys, as well as the people who made and sold tea pots and tea cups.
“The same is true with prayer,” he said. “Even sitting at home with one’s Prayer Book, there were the typesetters, bookbinders, booksellers, and all the rest, not to mention old Cranmer himself all those years ago, translating it from Latin. It’s why I told my man, Bunter, when we had that bit of bother in the fen country, ‘Where there is a church, there is civilization’.”
Mention of prayer reminded me I could probably get to Ealing Abbey for Compline. A discreet glance at my wristwatch, and looking back up, I suddenly saw that I was alone. Yet, in a way, communing even with a literary creature and his maker, one is never really alone.