I ran this post last year around this time and was just listening to the audio plays again this morning as part of preparations for Holy Week. Our priest always challenges us to read the Gospels all the way through, if possible. But those who prefer to listen on an MP3 player or CD might find the following dramatic presentation a helpful bridge to the story of the Gospels.
Just before the beginning of Great Lent, I was thumbing through my library wondering again what would be the best thing to read in this season of the fast. It is a good and pious practice during the forty days of fasting not only to increase prayers and attendance to church services but to practice some form of media fast and engage instead in one good spiritual book that will help one reflect on the life of Christ and repent of sinful habits. It was then that I came across an article which highlighted the book or rather set of plays that C.S. Lewis frequently read during Lent. This and the name Dorothy Sayers both caught my attention. Sayers is popular for her saying that “the dogma is the drama”; i.e., contrary to popular opinion that learning right doctrine is for dull and doltish people who like dusty libraries and don’t know how to have a good time, the dogma of the Church, relating first and foremost to the identity and work of Jesus Christ as He reveals the worship of the All-Holy Trinity, is rather for those who wish to engage in the greatest of all dramas. I have been reading this set of plays as well for my own Lenten reading along with other more traditional Orthodox texts. It brings to life many scenes from the Gospels that are left deliberately enigmatic and terse. Of course, any playwright must be careful not to add too much embellishment to the sacred text and therefore mislead the audience toward exaggerated and perhaps even heretical paths. But I think Sayers keeps well within the spirit of the Gospels and fleshes out the many other things Jesus did and taught not explicitly written therein.
For instance, I love her portrayal of Matthew and especially of his call by the Lord. The scene reads so abruptly in the Gospels. One minute Matthew is collecting taxes; the next, he is following the Lord and Master of his life. No questions asked, and only two words from the mouth of Christ, “Follow me”. Sayers fills out what Paul Harvey used to call the “rest of the story” by having Matthew recount the moment, complete with a vulgar, cockney accent evocative of the little commercial Jewish tax collector that he was:
So I stared at him, and he stared at me— seemed as though his eyes were going straight through me and through me ledgers, and reading all the bits as wasn’t for publication. And somehow or other he made me feel dirty. That’s all. Just dirty. I started shuffling my feet. And he smiled— you know the way he smiles sometimes all of a sudden— and he says, “Follow me”. I couldn’t believe my ears. I tumbled out of my desk, and away he went up the street, and I went after him. I could hear people laughing— and somebody spat at me— but I didn’t seem to care.
Sayers has many other wonderful portrayals of the disciples and events around the life of Christ, but I suspect the best way to experience her excellent work is not really by reading it, as I have been doing, but by listening to the original BBC radio broadcasts where they are located online for free. I just found this site from a link off the original Touchstone magazine article and then discovered a way to download the plays and load them onto my ipod. I plan now to supplement my reading with a much more dramatic listening. Hope you all might possibly enjoy this creative look into the life of the Lord as much as I have.