Remembering P.D. James
Phyllis Dorothy James passed away on November 27, 2014, at the age of 94. The author of over 20 books, she was best known around the world for her popular mystery novels. She was also a patroness of the English Prayer Book Society, and was a lifelong user and defender of the Book of Common Prayer. In the most recent issue of the quarterly Journal of the English Prayer Book Society, past chairman Anthony Kilmister writes:
“Phyllis loved the Book of Common Prayer from early infancy to her life’s end. She was born in Oxford in 1920 and her parents would wheel her to Evensong in her pram. Later, at a church school in Ludlow, Shropshire, she was required to learn the Collect each week. As she said many years later, ‘There could have been no better preparation for a writer.’ Of the BCP she added, ‘… here is the faith of the Church of England, Catholic and Reformed, unambiguously set out, rooted in scripture and tradition, the faith into which I was baptized and confirmed, and in which, by God’s grace, I shall die.’”
Speaking to a PBS gathering in Blackburn some years ago, she said, “The corporate worship of the Church should be orderly, expressed in words written to be spoken aloud by priests or congregation and in language of such nobility and grace that it has some claim to be worthy of the God it worships. And I am always interested to find how my private and spontaneous prayers either use the words of the Book of Common Prayer or echo those words. Early in the morning I like to say the morning Collect just as at night I do not fall asleep without that incomparable prayer, ‘Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord …’”
In an interview published by the English Church Times in April 2009, she commented: “My love for the Prayer Book began in very early childhood, before I could read – when I could only listen to it. Of course, it was the only book used then. Later, when I could read, during long, boring sermons I would read it and specially loved the instructions – for instance, those to priests for giving Holy Communion in time of pestilence. That conjured up pictures in my childish mind of the priest walking with the sacred vessels through the almost deserted village, almost certainly to become ill himself; or the prayers for when in danger on the sea, knowing that they would have been read by everyone on board, and the ship would almost certainly founder.
“There is so much history, romance, and great beauty in it. And the prayers like the General Thanksgiving and the prayers after Communion are so superb that they meet my need in praying much better than my own words do, and I still use them in private prayer.
“I enjoy services in other denominations, like those of the Reformed Church, or going to a Roman Catholic mass with a friend – but what is essential to me is an atmosphere of devotion and concentration on God. If there’s a great deal of happy-clappy singing and announcements of birthdays, and so on, I can see that it binds people together, but I don’t personally find it’s useful to me. I want silence, so I can concentrate on God – not just talking to him and giving him a list of my requirements.”
Anthony Kilmister concludes, “Phyllis James was a kind, splendid person and a doughty Prayer Book champion. We shall miss her and shall always be immensely grateful to her.”
(From the PBSC Newsletter, Lent 2015)