Communication expert Alexandra Franzen has recently informed me that January 8th to January 14th was Universal Letter Writing Week. “When you write something,” she says, ”your words have the power to change someone’s day, week, month, or life. (Which, in turn, shapes your own life, too.) You never know what kind of impact your words might have — or where “just one letter” might lead.”
And, of course, she is correct.
The Bible affirms that words are powerful and creative. God loves words. And letters as well. In fact, Psalms are kind of like letters from the authors to themselves, to readers, and perhaps even to God. In Catherine Field’s New York Times article, “The Fading Art of Letter Writing,” she says writing a letter “is a deliberate act of exposure, a form of vulnerability.” Sounds like many of the Psalms to me.
Plus, the New Testament has numerous epistles written for a variety of reasons: encouragement, instruction, correction, connection etc.
Why not take this opportunity to celebrate the ancient art of letter writing by taking time to turn towards yourself, others, and even God, through writing letters?
1. The Invitation Letter
Who do you have fun with? Who makes you laugh until your stomach hurts? Who makes you feel like you did when you were a kid and the world was full of possibilities? Send him a letter: an invitation to join you in play, or discovery, or an adventure, or a laugh. You could invite him to accompany you to a comedy show, or a creative retreat, or a pottery class, or a painting workshop, or a wine tasting event. Or you can design your own fun. Go skating. Bike riding. Cartwheeling. Now go play.
2. The Time Travel Letter
Every semester I ask my writing students to spend 15 minutes free-writing a letter to themselves. There are no rules. My Sci-fi and Fantasy readers have written wonderful creative time travel letters from their future self to their present, or vice versa. Or from their past selves to their present. Some letters are funny, others are poignant, but all are insightful. Have fun with it and connect with yourself. See what you have to say to you. You might be surprised.
3. The Impact Letter
Another letter prompt I give my students is to write a letter to someone who has impacted their lives for good or ill. Often they write to parents or former teachers. Sometimes they write to people who have caused them great grief and harm. These letters are often raw and vulnerable. They reveal how significant our interactions with one another are. So, write a letter to someone who has impacted you. Then afterwards decide if you’d like to send it or not.
4. The Sensory Letter
Handwritten letters differ from emails by their sensory nature. You can feel them. They are tactile and present. Highlight the differences between emails and letters by kicking up the sensory elements of your handwritten letter. You can use coloured pens, or glitter pens. Or perhaps you could spritz your letter with your signature scent, like Elle Wood’s resume from the movie Legally Blonde. Or you can create a hand-stitched notecard to add texture and whimsy. Or you can send a letter accompanied by tasty baked goods, chocolate, or loose tea. Think of pleasant sensory experiences and then creatively craft your epistle.
5. The Opportunity Letter
A friend of mine, a Christian counsellor who is skilled at working with victims of trauma, has been invited to participate on a trip to Kyrgyzstan to help train others on how to effectively counsel victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. She has sent out a letter as well as set up a fundraising page, explaining the project and inviting others to partner with her through prayers and donations. Her letter provides others the opportunity to contribute to a meaningful mission. Is there some ministry or mission project you are involved in? Write a letter explaining the ministry or project, and offer others the opportunity to pray, or donate their time and/or money.
6. The Gratitude Letter
Let’s take a page from Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and write a letter of gratitude to someone whom you are thankful for, complete with a list of all you are grateful for. Feel free to write this to someone living or dead. Write to someone you know or to someone you have never met. Perhaps write a letter to God describing all you are grateful for over the last year. Maybe a thank you to yourself for something incredible you accomplished this year.
7. The Lament Letter
Some letters are not all happy and filled with gratitude. Having a full range of human emotions means there will be times when we suffer. Write down what you are terrified of, or what makes you angry, or what loss you have been enduring. This could be a letter to a compassionate friend, or a letter to yourself, or a letter, like a Psalm, directed towards God. God is not frightened by strong emotions.
8. The Imagining Letter
Write a letter to someone about an adventurous future you imagine having together. Paint a word picture of the possibilities you imagine could happen if you both journey together: perhaps a romantic relationship, or a mentoring friendship, or a business, or a vacation. Whatever you can imagine.
9. The God’s Names Letter
Throughout Scripture God has multiple names revealed in various contexts. For example, for Hagar God is El Roi, the One Who Sees. For Moses, God is I Am. Other God names include the Lord of Hosts, the Healer, and the Provider. When reading through the Bible notice passages where a name is provided for God and then write a letter to God based on the characteristics of that name. If you read that God is named Healer, then petition God in a handwritten letter for those who need healing in your life. Or thank God for how he has brought healing in your life, whether physically, emotionally, or relationally. Turn towards God by using the names provided in Scripture as a springboard for a letter writing connection.
10. The Restoration Letter
Write a letter of restoration. Maybe you had a falling out with a relative. Or perhaps you have lost touch with an old friend, or a friendship has grown cold. Warm it back up with a letter expressing your feelings and how you have missed this person’s presence in your life. If needed, offer forgiveness, or request forgiveness. When you mail it, let it go. Don’t fret if your renewed offer of friendship is rejected. And if there is a favourable response, well then, yay you!
So, whom do you want to connect with? Perhaps you’d like to turn towards God, or a friend, or yourself? Take some time and write some letters. After all, as Catherine Field writes, “A good handwritten letter is a creative act, and not just because it is a visual and tactile pleasure… [but] because handwriting opens a window on the soul in a way that cyber communication can never do.”
Who knows? Maybe you’ll receive some letters in return.
Photo (Flickr CC) by missus manukenkun.