Anne Frank, Biddy Early, Bram Stoker, C.S. Lewis, Dracula, Etty Hellisum, Hannah Brencher, John Paul I, Letters, love letters, Papal encyclicals, Screwtape Letters, social justice, The Last Confession
I have always loved letters – writing them and receiving them. All my childhood I had pen pals and took up letter-writing as activism early in my teens. I have written letters to editors, to commissions, Prime Ministers and prisoners, to people living and dead (like yourself). I have read letters and diaries that others have written as fiction such as C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. I have read all the letters attributed to St Paul to those first communities of Christians in Ephesus, Corinth and Galatia. And those beautiful diaries – letters to themselves – from history to help tell the story of the human spirit like The Diary of Anne Frank and Etty Hellisum. (Letters and diary entries, as a primary source and witness to war, are popular with screenwriters at the moment as Australia awaits the centenary of ANZAC.)
The letter is a sacred form of literature, conveying an intimacy of the ordinary and the extraordinary. Arriving to bring news of some kind and whatever kind of news a letter brings there is a comfort, a warmth, a connective tissue that is held between the two even now when most of those letters arrive on the invisible thread of electronic mail with a ping to mimic the time when a man home-delivered letters on a bicycle. As a child I used to run when I heard the putt-putt of a very low cc scooter come into the street to collect the letters from the ‘postie’. Bringing the letters into the house was a ritual of bringing some news from the outside world, my job as a herald fulfilled for another day! An experience that is fading fast as the digital age roars on.
When I undertook some rigorous academic research I studied one hundred years of papal letter-writing to the faithful on matters of social justice. These encyclicals, literally circular letters, written by the Bishop of Rome to his brother Bishops as instructions, advice and support to guide those in their spiritual care on matters of import, sent me on a quest to identify what was relevant to women in my part of the world and what (if anything) could be recovered from them to guide and direct reflection and social action.
Each week when I sit down to write to you Biddy, I wonder what I will tell you, and I rarely know beforehand what will leak out onto the page. Each keystroke adding to the last to form words, then sentence and finally a letter. When I post the letter it is for the world to see and public revelation of my thoughts to you for another week. I wanted to tell you about my association with letters today, in part, because I was intrigued to learn via a play (The Last Confession) that John Paul 1 was another letter writer. When he was a Bishop he wrote a series of forty letters to historical and fictional characters. The collection includes letters written to Pinocchio, The Barber of Seville as well as usual suspects like Teresa of Avila and Jesus. I am looking forwarding to reading Luciani’s letters.
Hannah Brencher tells of the powerful experience of receiving daily letters from her mother when a long way from home and feeling miserable, she attributes the letters she received to helping restore her to health. She takes this experience to the next level and invites us to join her global movement of hand written love letters to strangers.
While my letters are to you Biddy, they are also for others to read, strangers to voyeur on my musings to you; perhaps to glimpse something familiar for comfort or insight or a starting place to reflect. Biddy I wonder if you wrote any love letters ? I am pretty sure you would have received some!
The world does need more love letters and there is no document more treasured than the one received by someone you love and none more deeply invested than the one you send to your love.