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Filtering by Tag: Dorothy Sayers

Cheez Whiz and The Inklings

Joy and Matthew Steem

It’s been said that Cheez Whiz is one molecule away from being plastic, and I actually don’t like it at all, but the song is catchy right?

Cheez Whiz has nothing to do with the Inklings because I am certain none of them would have deigned to touch it with a ten-foot pole.

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Do we often stand outside of life?

Justin Ryals


“... the only way of ‘mastering’ one’s material is to abandon the whole conception of mastery and to co-operate with it in love: whosoever will be a lord of life, let him be its servant. If he tries to wrest life out of its true nature, it will revenge itself in judgment, as the work revenges itself on the domineering artist.” (Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, 186)

In The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers makes the intriguing point that our modern culture typically approaches life according to a scientific or analytic “problem and solution” paradigm rather than what she calls a “creative” paradigm. As she states, modern man views life “as a series of problems … which he has to solve with the means at his disposal. And he is distressed to find that the more means he can dispose of — such as machine power, rapid transport, and general civilized amenities, the more his problems grow in hardness and complexity. This is particularly disconcerting to him, because he has been frequently told that the increase of scientific knowledge would give him ‘mastery over nature’ — which ought surely to imply mastery over life” (185-6). In short, we try to take a method that’s applicable to a small subset of human experience and try to apply it to all areas of life, indeed to human life itself.

In her creative paradigm, life isn’t a problem to be solved, nor the mystery of the universe an equation to be worked out; for one thing, these imply the ability to master life. Rather, in this view (as Christine Fletcher summarizes Sayers), “life presents a series of opportunities to make something new” (The Artist and the Trinity, 96). The artist, for Sayers, doesn’t stand outside life as an engineer, but, open-endedly, within life, working with the elements of life according to their nature, in order to make something out of them in harmony with their nature, essentially in an ongoing process of being fruitful and multiplying, that is, in all the various aspects of human life and human interaction with the world. Sayers applies this creative paradigm not just to the artist in the narrower sense, but to the fabric of human nature itself, indeed suggesting that “creative mind is … the very grain of the spiritual universe” (Mind of the Maker, 185).

Thus, central to what Sayers is arguing seems to be that modern man does not want to live life (this ongoing fruitful process); he wants to master life. Modern man seeks to overcome even the deeper problems of life through, e.g., analytic or machine techniques, seeking to conform the world to human will. But the creative paradigm doesn’t seek to master nature. It works with the materials received, according to their nature, to bring forth yet new things. Therein, even “the pains and sorrows of this troublesome world can never … be wholly meaningless and useless.” The artist will seek to “make something of them” (192-3). In short, they are the materials for a new creation or a new synthesis. This, Sayers argues, is the pattern that Christian theology provides as well. And there is a striking parallel, e.g., in the Incarnation. The problem of the Fall isn’t simply “solved” in the sense that problematic elements simply disappear by force of will and reason. They become themselves part of the very elements out of which something brand new is brought forth. God enters within the context of human life as things stand and creatively engages with all the factors involved according to their nature (taking on the “likeness of sinful flesh” [Rom 8:3]). Thus all the materials of the fallen order are employed to create something new. To be sure, God “adds” new materials — the supernatural breaking into the natural — but the old materials are integrated into the new, having been transformed into something glorious through God’s creative work. One is reminded of C. S. Lewis’ analogy, in “The Grand Miracle,” of discovering the missing, central passage of a symphony or chapter of a novel, which, when plugged in, transforms and transvalues its whole meaning, making new sense of all the other parts, forming a masterpiece. Thus, though life is often, in large part, made up of tragedy we can rest in God’s promise and his creative power that he can take all of those elements — the scars, pain, loss, and all other seemingly useless material — not simply erasing them or resetting everything to zero, but creatively forming out of them a new creation of unforeseen glory (how else could a crucifixion be the creative means of glorifying the Son of God?).

Do we perhaps often stand “outside” life, seeking to engineer our lives and thereby gain mastery over it through techniques, or (similarly) get lost in imaginary scenarios that could have been but are not? If Sayers is correct, should we not rather stand “within” life, as its servant, imaginatively interacting with what is there, engaging with life in media res, seeking to create new forms and re-integrations of the good, the beautiful, the true (in all walks of life)? While also, of course, admitting to the tragedy and the brokenness and the longing of life that cannot be assuaged by human ingenuity.

(Painting by Frida Kahlo)

Diversity and Unity: Further Up and Further In

Justin Ryals


C. S. Lewis says of human nature and destiny,

"[God] makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you. … Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the divine substance." (Problem of Pain, 151-2)

Elsewhere he states life works “like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good” (Great Divorce, viii). The one statement describes human persons in all their variation and particularity. The other alludes to the ever-expanding complexity of that variety, like an ever-increasing richness of musical polyphony. And as Dorothy Sayers mentions in The Mind of the Maker, "the stronger the diversity, the more massive the unity" (53).

I was driven to reflect on this question of the nature, potential, and teleology of humanity when recently I was reading M. I. Finley's The Ancient Greeks and came across this statement:

"It is sometimes said that the anthropomorphism of the Homeric poems is the most complete, the most extreme, on record; that never before or since have gods been so much like men …; that this is a terribly naive view of the divinity. No doubt it is, but it is also something else, something perhaps far more interesting and significant. What a bold step it was, after all, to raise man so high that he could become the image of the gods." (27)

Finley adds that this perspective was “pregnant with limitless possibilities” (ibid.). He affirms how naive was the Greeks’ anthropomorphism of divinity, but suggests the other side of this coin shows how high was their view of man. This seems to be a common view among academics but the idea is rather problematic. It’s unclear how a low conception of divinity can imply a high conception of humanity when the latter is simply the image of the former. If the gods are small, then man, bearing their image, cannot be great.

It is rather the case that the greater one’s view of the divine, the greater must be that which bears its image. The lower one’s view is of the divine, the lesser is that which bears its image. Within the Christian vision of the Imago Dei, in which humanity encapsulates a kind of analogy of the infinite God, the meaning, worth, and potential of the image of God cannot, in a sense, be described as finite (limited) as it bears the image of the infinite. In other words, within this (meta-) narrative the image of God is a finite being but with genuinely limitless potential for ever-increasing love, joy, creative activity, and every other human capacity in an eternally dynamic dance with the Infinite.

This is reminiscent of C. S. Lewis’ memorable phrase from The Last Battle, for humanity to ever move “further up and further in,” into the unceasing and inexhaustible outpouring of the life, love, joy, and creativity of God, thereby always expanding the human capacity to image God more fully to one another and back toward its source in love and bliss. Surely, this is a divine image worth bearing.