Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transparent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. ~ Sara Ban Breathnach

Friday, July 22, 2011

Finding God Within Written Letters

L. Carpenter 1920-2010

“What a lot we lost when we stopped writing letters. You can't reread a phone call.”  ~ Liz Carpenter

Lately, I have been journaling about my book on this first page, because my thoughts have seemed to be shaped by what I have been reading. Today is no exception. This past weekend, a group of women who all share the same Great-Grandmother, gathered in the county that holds the life of our Grandmother. Sunday afternoon, we were around my mother's dining table reading old diary entries, studying pictures, and reading letters.  Having so recently spent time reading letters of my great-grandmother, Della, Goethe's quote was particularly interesting to me...

“We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion, and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverable for ourselves and for others.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
A wonderful reminder how we can sometimes reach deeper, allowing thoughts and questions to arise, through the writing of a letter:
Dear Mister God  by the Warren Brothers...

At some point, I hope to share some of the letters I read along with my cousins last weekend. They are a testimony to something we have lost...but these thoughts are for another posting!

Having so recently spent time reading old letters, I was surprised and then delighted by the title of chapter 8 in Macrina's book: 8. Finding God in the Mailbox. 
"Letters are the stories of our souls. Unlike a telephone call, a letter can be picked up again and again. It can be deeply pondered. It can be eaten. Always serve letters with a cup of tea and a footstool. Celebrate the reading slowly. It is irreverent to read a letter fast." (Macrina Wiederkehr, A Tree Full of Angels, p 105)
Macrina continues, writing:
Oh, how I looked forward
to letters while at P.U.!
"I treasure my letters like early morning sunrises. I see the rays between the lines. I hear the dreams and the yearnings, the gratitude and the delight. I hear the questions and the musings, all coming from the heart of this newly published author. A letter bears its own copyright. Standing before my mailbox holding an original very limited edition in my hands is like standing before a feast."  (Ibid)
Macrina writes of letters written by Saint Basil to Olympius. Through his letters, we can get a glimpse into the humanity of the saints. The spiritual letters of John Chapman are filled with wonderful advice to those seeking spiritual growth.

Lastly, Macrina shares a letter by my new friend, Etty Hillesum who wrote to her friend, Tide from Westerbrook. She describes a little hunchback Russian woman in the concentration camp:
"She stands there in front of me, a green silk kimono wrapped round her small, misshapen figure. She has the very wise, bright eyes of a child. She looks at me for a long time in silence, searching, and then says, 'I would like, oh, I really would like to be able to swim away in my tear.'...She asks me with her strange accent in the voice of a child that begs for forgiveness. 'Surely God will be able to understand my doubts in a world like this, won't He?' Then she turns  away from me in an almost loving gesture of infinite sadness, and throughout the night I see the misshapen, green, silk-clad figure moving between beds, doing small services for those about to depart." (Ibid)
A strange picture with a
powerful message!
Macrina shares how this portion of Etty's letter stayed with her for several weeks, feeding her in ways that surprised her. I had not thought of letters feeding me, but I can see what Macrina means. As she says, letters may feed me the sorrow that makes me want to turn away from my own shallow living. Letters may feed me the wisdom that leads me to explore new depths. As I discovered, reading my great-grandmother's letters, letters may help one either revel in the memory of a loved one or meet this individual as if for the first time. Lastly, letters may feed me with encouragement that allows me the ability to think bigger, to dream broader.

Now, to my lesson from this chapter! Macrina writes:
"It has long been a custom of mine to pray with the letters I receive. Sometimes, I sit quietly holding the memory of the sender in my heart. Jesus and I look on the author of the letter with love. At times I use a single phrase from a letter as my prayer-mantra throughout the day." (Wiederkehr, p 107)
In Chapter 8 of her book, Macrina shares journal pieces of letters from friends and her prayer responses to them. She tells me that she has chosen to use the letter format for her responses, even if her journal entries were not always sent as letters.
"These selections are indeed testimonies to the truth that God can be found in the mailbox."  (Ibid)
My mother has always written letters, especially when she and my dad are traveling.  What's the old saying of not knowing what you have...?  I've never kept any of her letters, and that I regret. Laura, daughter #3, shared this morning that she began keeping Grandma's letters a couple of years ago. Then she shared how Grandma had said some really powerful things during the time Grandpa was having surgery last December.

Recently, I have begun keeping "journals" for each of my grandkids. However, reading Macrina's thoughts, I realize that I'm actually writing them letters.  Each journal entry begins with the child's name. Then I write about my thoughts on my day, something that has happened in the world, a quote.... Sometimes I doodle. : )

Macrina's reminder that God can be found in the mailbox has served to purposes for me.

  1. It is a reminder that God is EVERYWHERE and within EVERYTHING and within EVERYONE! As Michael W. Smith sings, "God is the very air I breathe..."
  2. It is a reminder that when I journal, sometimes my writing is a letter to God. While I had not thought of this being directly true... it brings a different lens to the things I write.
  3. It is a reminder of the value of taking time to write to another.
  4. It is a reminder to value what I receive in this moment, and to not take it for granted.
Lessons learned. This reminds me of one of my favorite songs:

Yes, I regret that I have not kept letters, I regret not writing letters...and today, these are lessons for me to learn and maybe to share with another.  I'm looking forward to this chapter as I continue reading my Grandpa's notes and stories and my Great-Grandmother's letters AND possibly sharing some of these new ah-ha's in letters to my own grandkids!

Many Blessings ~ Sandi

1 comment:

  1. I went to school on the Friday you left this post to start to get my room ready for Open House. I realized how thankful that I am to have the freedom to teach and have my students come freely to my classroom. I sat and wrote a letter to our servicemen and women to once again tell them how thankful I am for their service to our country. (part of the 1,000 letters) Also, I found letters from students written throughout the year as I was putting things away. Letters are amazing - just think of all the scripture that comes in the form of letters.