Advent Programme at Christ Church – 2014
The Themes of Nativity and Resurrection in P.D.James’ The Children of Men
“What saith the Scripture”
Last week, a much celebrated English writer, Dame P.D. James passed away (Nov 27th, 2014). An accomplished novelist in the genre of detective mysteries, she also tried her hand at writing in the style of Jane Austen in a late novel, Death Comes to Pemberley, with mixed results, perhaps, though laudably so, I think. But it is another novel outside her detective fiction that warrants our attention in Advent. It is The Children of Men which had the fortune or misfortune of being made into a movie which, as the culture critic Mark Steyn notes, managed to miss the point of her novel almost completely. As he quips, the Baroness was the first to write on barrenness. It serves as a metaphor for the culture of our world and day. It is about a kind of spiritual barrenness, the counter to which can only be found in the Word of God coming to us which is what Advent is all about.
Her 1992 novel The Children of Men is, in many ways, a contemporary mystery play, at once of the Nativity, but also of the Resurrection. Medieval mystery plays were important vehicles for conveying the teachings of the Christian Faith, especially to a largely illiterate world. Perhaps they should be revived. One of the last things that Dame James published relates as well to the ways in which the Christian Faith is communicated to the world.
Deeply appreciative of The Book of Common Prayer, she wrote an essay in 2011 for a volume entitled The Book of Common Prayer: Past, Present, & Future upon the occasion of the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the mother book of the Prayer Books of the Anglican Communion. Her essay, “Through all the Changing Scenes of Life: Living with the Prayer Book,” provides a wonderful witness to the formative nature of the spirituality of the Prayer Book conveyed principally through the power of words. Here is a writer acknowledging one of the most powerful influences on her own thinking and writing and reminding us, too, of the power and nature of words.