Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Lost Art of the Handwritten Letter

“Then letters came in but three times a week: indeed, in some places in Scotland where I have stayed when I was a girl, the post came in but once a month;—but letters were letters then; and we made great prizes of them, and read them and studied them like books. Now the post comes rattling in twice a day, bringing short jerky notes, some without beginning or end, but just a little sharp sentence, which well-bred folks would think too abrupt to be spoken.”Elizabeth Gaskell, My Lady Ludlow

Among my most treasured possessions is a tattered cardboard box full of handwritten letters that my husband and I exchanged  43 years ago.    Ours was not the usual courtship because it was almost entirely done by correspondence.   Robert and I were high school acquaintances but our romantic interest didn’t blossom until later after I moved to Utah and he moved to Colorado.    We wrote letters to each other for two months,  sometimes twice a day,  and after just a few phone calls and  only seven days of  being together in person, we were married.  

The advent of technology dealt a major blow to the art of letter writing,  which is tragic in my opinion.   We have truly lost  a wonderful  means of expression in a world that  has downsized communication  to memes and 140 characters.
“Research has shown that the general act of writing by hand can promote quite a few physical and mental benefits,  from improving learning abilities to fostering a more positive outlook on life.   And when it comes to writing that is used as a form of communication between two people, namely letters and postcards, the impact of such messages lasts far longer than any alternative version offered in our high-tech world.   From the careful intentions of the sender to the value experienced by the receiver,  no true match exists for this old-time, traditional means of conversation.”
While the next generation may never experience the delight of rummaging through boxes of musty handwritten letters  tucked away in a closet,  God has preserved for us  letters that are of far greater value.    The New Testament contains copies of 21 letters that were originally handwritten by the apostles or with the aid of an amanuensis (Rom. 16:2; 1 Peter 5:12). Paul wrote 13 or 14  if  he authored  Hebrews.   James, Peter, John, and Jude wrote  7—and then there were also the 7 letters to the churches dictated directly by Christ to John and recorded in the Book of Revelation.
Last Sunday our pastor began a new series in the book of Colossians,  and  reminded us that these  letters of correspondence were originally intended to be read aloud to the congregation.    As he does occasionally,  we were asked to stand to hear the reading of  the entire book, which took about ten minutes.     As this marvelously  detailed letter was being read aloud,   perhaps in a similar way  that the house church in Colossae first heard it,   I  considered the methods of correspondence we use  today.    I wondered about the impact that  communicating in sound bites  has on our relationships and even  how  it might influence the way we approach the Scriptures. 
The apostles wrote  personal letters addressed to both  individuals and congregations.   These letters,  though written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,  were intended to convey  the author’s  thoughts and affections along with  instruction, encouragement, exhortation,  and correction to the  hearers.   Letters to the churches were meant to be read  in one sitting,  as well as to be studied carefully in context.   
 I have been challenged  on two accounts  this week.   The first is to remember to read  the New Testament epistles in their broader sense so that I that don’t  lose the forest through the trees.      And the second is to resurrect  to some degree,  the art of letter writing.    I think a  good  start would be  to buy a box a beautiful stationary and write letters to each of my grandchildren—chances  are they won't collect  many.    But first I’ll have to brush up on my handwriting.   

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