Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

A few years ago one of my daughters asked how often Mike and I talked during the year we saw each other only on weekends. She was astonished when I replied, "We never spoke from Sunday to Friday. We wrote letters."

The Age of Letter Writing

I explained that before cell phones, long-distance calling was expensive. Rates were cheaper after 9 p.m. and before 8 a.m. Phone calls were only for emergencies or conveying information, rarely for pleasure. Even today when we speak with Sarah and Anna, I appreciate hearing their voices as much as the conversation. The pleasure and joy of "hearing someone's voice" has perhaps lost its value with texting and email communication.

Letters offer a permanent record of affection, information, encouragement and love. For example, my friend, Annabel, and her husband were members of Center United Methodist Church on the south side of Indianapolis, where Mike served from 1983 to 1989. Annabel, who will soon be 100, became a surrogate mother to me. She encouraged my writing and affirmed me as a young mother.

During my pregnancy with Anna, Annabel frequently brought muffins or vegetables to supplement our meals.

Letters from My Mentor

When Mike was appointed to serve in Vincennes in June, 1989, Annabel and I began a regular correspondence. After our move, I shared our family activities, and often asked questions related to raising children, managing my time or my walk with God. Interestingly, when we moved to Fishers, and visited often in person, we continued to correspond. The stack of letters and cards I have saved accumulated over 28 years is a treasured keepsake of shared memories, advice, and encouragement from someone who loved and cared for me deeply.

When I visited Annabel before Mother's Day, I took all of her letters and cards. We read through many of her thoughts and looked at the stationery she chose reflecting her passion for human rights, equality, nature, wildlife preservation, and reconciliation. Sitting side by side on her couch, she cried, realizing the importance her letters had in my life.

I've saved letters Sarah wrote to Anna from church camp and from when Sarah worked at Culver Academy Summer School and Camp during summer breaks from college. These letters are cherished and rest in a box of memorabilia.

A little pencil in God's hand - the Walking Letter

The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:3 - "You show that you are a letter from Christ ... written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts." These words can be interpreted to mean that all who love and serve God are "walking letters," writing each day the ways in which we script our faith.

Mother Teresa was interviewed in the December 4, 1989, issue of TIME magazine. When asked to describe the nature of her work with the poor she replied, "I don't claim anything of the work I do. It is his (God's) work. I am like a pencil in his hand. That is all. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do with it. The pencil has only to be allowed to be used."

Jesus was more like Mother Teresa's description of her work. Jesus was a pencil in God's hand, writing how to live and love in the kingdom; whereas Paul used letters, some of which were penned in prison to speak to believers on various topics related to life in the church.

The Power of Writing by Hand

A few years ago a series of articles was published about the science of writing things by hand. The research indicated that our brains work differently when we form letters with a hand-held implement and we learn more effectively than when we type.

Another study found that when pre-school children look at letters of the alphabet, those who practiced writing the letters showed more activation in the visual areas of their brains than those who had practiced letter recognition alone. Writing by hand seems to help lay the neural groundwork for reading.

I write all of the articles for "Gather the Pieces" first, by hand, then I type. I find that ideas flow more from my heart when I hand-write compared to using a computer.

Of course, writing letters takes more time as well as organization to have paper or stationery and pen or pencil available. Recently, a book I purchased at a church rummage sale, Someone Cares - An Encyclopedia of Letter Writing, lists 23 topics for letter writing including letters for keeping in touch; blessing; thank you and appreciation; sympathy and condolence; complaint and employment.

Perhaps you know someone who would appreciate a handwritten note. Letters come from the heart and writing that comes from deep within can give the recipient a permanent record of our love, care and compassion.

Prayer: God, we thank you for the ways we can be expressions of your love to others. As we are pencils in your hand, guide us in tangible ways to let others know how much we care and write a few letters today. Amen.

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