February 5, 2019

A Reflection on Letter Writing

I don’t imagine Paul had any idea that his letters to the people in Corinth or Rome or Galatia would become part of the Christian canon. His focus was not to become a famous author whose words would guide and inform Christian thought for centuries. Rather, he was reaching out to friends, to communities, to urge them through personal invitation to come to Jesus, to learn about mercy and grace, salvation and sanctification.

I’ve been reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans during the Good Book Club, an initiative sponsored by Forward Movement and supported by partners across the Episcopal Church, including the Episcopal Church Foundation. The goal of the Good Book Club is to encourage a daily habit of reading scripture, believing that encounters with God’s Word are transformative. I’m learning a lot from Paul—in part, realizing that I still have a lot to learn. This missive for the Romans is not for the faint of heart; it is profound and complicated and sometimes confusing (Paul might have done well to call upon the assistance of an editor!).

Setting aside the content for a moment, I’d like to focus on the delivery device: a letter. Tucked away in file folders and shoeboxes are important letters from different points in my life: notes from my mom and dad, love letters from a boy from Alaska, short and sweet Mother’s Day cards from my children. But most of these are old—there aren’t many from the past decade. Cell phones and texts, emails and social media have replaced letters. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never printed out a social media response and tucked it into a shoebox to save. I wonder what pieces of my own personal history are already lost.

I have taken to writing letters again. Handwritten ones on real paper and mailed through postal service. The response has been extraordinary. People are surprised and delighted to receive the notes, and I’ve found that the process of writing them has made me slow down for a minute, to be deliberate in my communication in ways that emojis and thumb-texting doesn’t allow.
I wonder if it’s time for the church to reclaim letter writing. I don’t image that most of us will achieve the profound impact of Paul’s letters, but we can use his as inspiration. Ultimately, Paul’s reason for writing the letters was a deep desire to share his life-changing faith.

What might happen if we committed to writing letters—one a month, maybe one a week—to family and friends and neighbors? What if we wrote out our heart’s desire for them to move into deeper relationship with our loving God? Perhaps prayer gatherings or knitting groups or youth meetings might set aside 10 minutes at the close, along with pen and paper, to write letters to people in the community. These needn’t be strong-armed attempts at conversion but rather honest and earnest letters about the Christian life.

I don’t imagine that these letters will end up in the Christian canon (but who am I to put a limit on God’s plan?). But they could plant some new seeds of faith and create opportunities for conversation about God and the Spirit. And I bet many of them will be tucked away, saved for reading and re-reading, a long-time, handmade reminder of love.

This blog is part of a series for the Good Book Club. Learn more about the Good Book Club here.