READ: II Corinthians 3:1-3
Paul writes …“Are we beginning to commend ourselves to you once more, as though, we were in need of letters of commendation, either to you or from you? You yourselves are our letters of commendation, written in our hearts, that everyone can read and understand; and it is plain that you are a letter from Christ, entrusted to our care, not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God; not on paper, but on the tablets of human hearts.” – II Corinthians 3:1-3
Brother Michael recently returned from a sabbatical journey on which he visited a number of the Benedictine schools and communities in Europe. On the day of his return, we all gathered in the chapter meeting room to hear his report of his journey. Being a newcomer to such monastic homecomings, I was captivated by the style and form of his report. Brother Michael shared with us as if he were writing a letter to his family back home. As he recounted the times and the places, most of which in their chronological order, he would insert stories of moments along the way and he would deliver messages from various brothers and sisters he met on his travels. As Brother Michael shared his account, I felt as though we were all gathered about the living room of the old home place, hearing news from family faraway. I have found this is a quality of the Benedictine spirit – this cherishing together of moments and conversations, as if keeping love letters to read over and over again.
In our day and time, we tend to treat the Letters of Paul as documents to be studied and analyzed, chapters of theological discourse to be fitted into some theological scheme. While we read and study the Letters of Paul, in their first living form, they were letters carried from far off places by couriers and then read to folks gathered in the Church’s living room. While we tend nowadays to see only words on the printed page, back then, the listeners were hearing the voices, not only the voice of the courier but also the voice of Paul and the voices of his colleagues. When first written, I imagine Paul was picturing the faces of those who one day would be listening to his words. Lest we forget…the Letters of Paul … well, they were letters.
We find ourselves living in a texting, e-mailing, tweeting world. Letter writing in the form of ink being placed on paper through a hand-moved pen, thoughts slowly, thoughtfully conceived as they were crafted, then tucked into an envelope to send it on its journey to a place far away … well, that human art form has become nearly lost in the haste of our convenient-loving time. I remember reading those letters of years gone by, especially those personal letters that I have kept in safe-keeping in my safe-keeping places. And when I read those letters …in my thoughts, I could hear once more the voice of the person who wrote the letter .. as if somehow they were present beside, speaking to me all over again. Those handwritten letters that took someone’s time and care, those letters took on their own, becoming living creations in themselves, packages, small packages of cherished time.
During my years of ministry, my life was almost TOO filled with people. It was overwhelming, at times. A far too great a share of all those human interactions were busied with the business of managing a church, a village of so many people with so many opinions and with so many needs. It is only now … in the afterglow of my retirement … that the souls I have known, now return to me a far slower pace, a more humane and reflective pace, now freed from the demands of getting the work done and the crisis resolved. Nowadays, the souls of years gone by come back to me as living letters, to be cherished, to be lovingly remembered, over and over again. All those people in my life, those moments and conversations we share, have become as living letters … becoming more treasured with each passing year.
And so as Paul did say as he pictured the faces of those loved ones to whom he wrote, I say now to you … you are my living letters, not written in ink but in the Spirit of God, not on paper but on human hearts.
Live each day as if with its moments you were writing a heartfelt letter, something to be cherished and remembered.
Brother Anthony of the Cross
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