In the blizzard of emails, text-messages and tweets, perhaps we have lost touch with the beauty of a letter.
Last week I was in the stationer’s shop. I was asking about new stationary and I used the word “wardrobe.” The stationary lady swooned. Thanked me for even knowing the word with regard to stationary. Mother would be proud.
Even the words “stationer’s shop” makes one want to make them into their colonial version…The Stationer’s Shoppe. It has an old-worldy feel to it. Warm. Comforting. And somewhat anachronistic with its cottony ivory laid paper smelling faintly of old books or lavender (my grandmother stored her writing paper in a box with a lavender sachet.) By the time one finds one’s pen (ideally an inherited fountain pen) and one’s ink (ideally cobalt blue) and one’s paper (ideally Crane or something delicious from the Amalphi coast of Italy where they make paper as an art form) then one is tempted to turn off the lights, light a candle and don a night shirt and cap. Dickens…move over. It feels positively antique to write a letter and yet doing so remains one of my favorite activities in life. And “ideally” … well… I acknowledge that even talking about stationary and fountain pens is classist, sinner that I am!
To send a letter is to send a gift – even one on photocopy paper with a free promotional ball-point pen from Wallgreens. The care of the ink choice, the pen’s nib (my grandmother would not allow anyone to use her fountain pen because, she said emphatically but kindly and gently…”my hand has ground my nib to just the right angle for a good line on the page.”) Don’t you wish we took such care in our writing? Taking the time and the trouble? Using the stamp. Remember stamps?
In a few days, or perhaps last week…I’m not really sure…, the General Convention unfolds or unfolded. There will be many words resulting. People will be writing tweets and articles, posturing, opining and explaining, taking minutes (lots of minutes) with “he said” and “she said” and “we decided.” Piles and piles of paper, or at least piles of digital documents will mount up and the piles will make people feel frightfully productive. Bundles will be piled in archives. Dust will settle. Another Convention.
And I know full-well that some of it all (perhaps 7 %) will be of real value. Would incline Jesus to write a thank you note (I suspect He would use those cards featuring a 1950’s lady saying something smart-ass.)
And of course, every one of the 10,000 people involved will feel terribly productive. Terribly important. A real player. And that’s nice for them.
But I am wondering about letters since we worship with them, through them even. The letter to the Galatians. The letter to the Ephesians. The letters of St. John. These letters are bound in expensive leather and tooled with gold leaf into books lifted high by Deacons – high like the crosses of our processions. And laid gently, lovingly, softly onto altar linens between candles and to the dulcet tunes of pipe organs.
These letters to “so-and-so” and “so-and-so” are letters designed to encourage, to chide, to form and to direct. And yet Jesus never wrote one. I suppose because He was one – he IS one- The word made meat.
It all makes me wonder what the “Letter to the Americans” would look like? Makes one tremble does it not? Even thinking about it makes me think it will not be all lovey-dovey and “Y’all are doing such a great job! High five!” Will it mention vipers or broods? Gosh I hope not.
What would it be like for you or for me, or for a church or Vestry or retreat group or house-church to sit down and draft “The letter to the Americans?” It would, if nothing else, be an interesting exercise. What would great spiritual leaders say to our culture? And by leaders I mean the kinds of leaders who wrote the letters in our Bible…the un-titled ones…the anonymous, brilliant, prayerful, prophetic, faithful ones whose anonymity made their voice possible but not their martyrdom necessary. People wrote them and then bounced their nieces on their knees and sang songs and died gently, anonymously. Smart writers they were. Smart and alive.
If you were to sit down and write 1,000 words (one page) called “The Letter to the Americans” what would it say? Would it be a caffeinated rant (much like the one I would probably write!) or would it be a thoughtful, loving encouragement with some cautionary hues – cautionary even to oneself?
True, the Letters from our gospels are written to “the church in…” and true…I am less interested in that letter. The Church today does not need a letter, it needs a team of nurses and a hug. But the nation, OUR nation – what would a letter to our nation look like from real, authentic spiritual leaders like Maya Angelou, Mr. Rogers, Ghandi, Colin Powell, Pema Chodron and, well, most gardeners?