Letter Writing in Turbulent Times
It’s been said that letter writing has become a lost art. With the onset of email, text messaging, and social media, the need for letters has become less apparent. So, as I sat down to write a letter to a good friend last week, I didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t writer’s block. I was just out of practice. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I had written a letter. Of course, I had written the occasional short note in a card, but actually writing several paragraphs on paper, sealing the envelope, and mailing it, was not a cultivated habit in my life.
As I began to put pen to paper, I wrote about what was on my mind: the practice of letter writing. I mused about the benefits of slowing down and taking the time to write a letter. Apparently, I’m not alone in this. According to the British novelist, Jon McGregor, who invited his readers to send him handwritten letters, many people who are out of the practice of crafting letters often spend their first one writing “about the nostalgic and rare pleasure of sitting down to write a letter.”
Writing with pen and paper is a way to share yourself with another person. As you write with your unique penmanship, you mark the letter as your own. If you make a mistake, you can’t delete it as you do on a computer, but rather you have to scratch it out and allow your imperfection permanence. It also cultivates patience as you wait for the letter to arrive and anticipate a response. There are no feelings of instant gratification like when you send a text or post on Facebook. Yet, letter writing provides you time to thoughtfully articulate what you want to say and hopefully to do so in charity, grace, and love.
There are some letters, of course, that have stood the test of time and have allowed their author’s voice to be heard for generations. This Monday, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and I am reminded of his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail. As MLK sat in that jail cell, the only form of communication he had was letter writing. He couldn’t give a speech like his great, “I Have a Dream” speech, instead in the midst of great oppression, he was limited to pen and paper. Yet, this limitation didn’t stop his words from resounding throughout a nation and around the world. He wrote,
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
MLK’s letter reminds us that although we may be individuals, our individual actions are never abstracted from the reality of community. Each act of injustice has a ripple effect throughout the world.
This Monday, as you celebrate MLK day, perhaps in lieu of any public gatherings in the city, you can take up the practice of letter writing and allow your words to be a vessel of generous love to another. For as MLK wrote in, Strength to Love, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” You may not feel like you have the power to bring justice to a world full of injustice, but you always have the power to choose love today. The underestimated power of small acts of love is what our world needs today.
Peace be upon you,
Chaplain Travis Jamieson