By Sue Conrad Howes
You could count on it like the rising of the sun. From the week I left for college in 1988 to her death in 2008, my grandmother wrote me a weekly letter. It was one of the most reliable things in my ever-changing life. Based on rough calculations, Grandma wrote me well over 1000 letters on her lacy stationery with her fancy penmanship.
My relationship with my grandma had always been strong, even before the letter writing, but it grew stronger as a result of the letters. Ignoring the advent of email during this time, I also hand wrote letters to Grandma. I was, perhaps, not quite as dedicated as she was, but we had a wonderful correspondence that crossed generations, theological differences, and geographical distances. I became a better person because of these letters, learning from her wisdom, but also knowing how to express my changing self to someone who had always been so present in my life.
Like others, I am a fan of quick texts, even email … but I still love the old-fashioned approach to relationships through the hand-written word of a card, letter, or note. Recently I spent the week with my 16-year-old niece while her parents were away. One day, I tucked a small card in her lunch bag. At lunch, she snapped a photo of the card and sent me a text, thanking me for it. I later learned that she shared that same photo on her Instagram account. What was it about the card that made a teenager want to share it with her world?
We know that a portion of the New Testament is formed of letters (called “epistles”), written from one person to another. These letters have become our holy Scriptures. We have been able to use them as our guide, despite the fact that they were letters written over 2000 years ago. Did Paul have any idea his letters would have such staying power? What is it about the epistles that makes us want to share them with the world?
I wonder how many drafts Paul took to write his letters. Did he wish for white-out or an eraser, or did he take the time to think through his words before putting them on parchment? What does it mean when we take the time to think clearly about our words to another person, and then hand write them on paper? I always take more time when I write a card or letter, usually re-reading it before mailing it, than any text or even email that I write. Imagine if we all took a little bit more time in our communication: hand-written, spoken, or typed. Would it make it to someone’s Instagram account?
If you’re looking to experience the epistles as they were originally heard or written, join Mosaic Institute’s “Formed by Scripture” class this spring. You’ll dig more deeply into the stories behind the Bible, explore the experiences that shape how we interpret Scripture, and practice interacting with the Bible in ways that can change us—like writing out one of its books by hand!
Sue Conrad Howes
Sue Conrad Howes is part of the communication team for Mosaic Mennonite Conference. She is an ordained pastor in MC USA and is a chaplain at St.Luke’s Penn Foundation. She and her husband live in Quakertown, PA and are members at West Swamp Mennonite Church.