This month’s column is about a lost art – the writing of letters. Now, let’s be clear that we are not talking about the emails we dash off (just the facts, please, and complete sentences are unnecessary), or the formal business letter printed under an impressive, professional letterhead.
No, I write in praise of what has become a rarity indeed: the hand-written, thoughtful, personal letter written from the heart of the sender to the heart of the recipient.
We tend to associate such things with a time gone by, when life was simpler and the pace was slower, before kids were shuttled to soccer matches in household SUVs, when families actually sat down to dinner together, I am at an age where I can remember such things. My grandmother had a desk in the living room with stationery and stamps neatly tucked in the middle drawer. Not only did she write letters, but Grandma Butcher kept a daily diary and never missed a day. I have that record of her life, from 1939 through 1966. It forms an extended letter, in her own hand, full of wit, wisdom and the quiet regularity of an earlier day.
Or there was Charlie Wolf, a dear friend from years ago, and a consummate letter writer. Charlie was not a member of the church I served at the time, but would visit now and then “to see what Monie was saying these days.” Quite often, Charlie would follow up on a sermon with a long, handwritten letter that began with the main points of the sermon and then took off on further reflections. Charlie was a thoughtful “elder statesman,” not only a writer but a voracious reader. He is no longer with us. I miss his letters.
I have learned over the years how much it means to receive a letter in the mail. A letter is a treasure discovered in a sea of junk mail and bills, that one envelope with a hand-written address among all those computer-generated ones. As a pastor, some of those letters are akin to Charlie’s, turning last Sunday’s sermon from a monologue into a dialogue. Others express a concern about how things ought to be organized, or some idea for a new program. I have to admit that I love the ones actually penned by the hand of the author, the ones with a certain grace reminiscent of another time, another place.
I note that the apostle Paul wrote quite a few letters, found in the Bible on my desk. When he wanted to make a special point, he wrote “in his own hand,” as he put it. That’s what we do when we want to speak from the heart, to the heart of someone special. We write a letter.
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