When I was in seminary one of my fellow students was the son of a minister. He said to me, “Well, it’s never too early to start your Monday file.”
“What’s a Monday file?”
He explained that his dad kept every complimentary note, card and letter he ever received in a file labeled Monday. He said this was because Mondays could be depressing because that’s when you get feedback about your sermon. So you whip out your Monday file to make yourself feel better. The cards and notes were reminders that sometimes you do get it right.
“Wow,” I said, “How long do you do this?” Because I thought maybe it was like training wheels and after a while you didn’t need to keep all this stuff.
But he said, “Oh, man, my dad’s got stuff from the fifties.” So I took his advice and started a file.
But after a couple years, I read these cards and notes and thought, “I shouldn’t need this praise any more. Isn’t it sort of pathetic to keep all these?” I dumped the entire file.
I deeply regret that now.
Last week I was reading I John and these verses from Chapter 4 really hit me:
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and God’s love is made complete in us.
I wish I had understood that each card and note was a kind of love letter—from God.
So I threw away love letters from God! It is a mighty thing to realize that the Divine loves us through one another, that the love we feel for another person is Spirit loving through us. We like think the love we feel is something we gin up ourselves. But my experience is that that kind of love is neither deep nor long-lasting.
And now days, when we receive an actual hand-written note or card we know this is an act of love. This person took the time to find paper, pen, envelope and stamp, and then sat down, gathered their thoughts and wrote them down. Then they had to go look up your address. In these times where everything is described as “lightning-fast,” note writing seems positively medieval. And wonderful.
I am not dissing email messages. Because those too are acts of God loving through us. But there is something about the tangibility, the physicality of paper; the moment of anticipation as we open the envelope; the careful sliding out of the card; the perusal of any art work; the opening of the note, then the reading, the understanding, the integrating of the power of the message.
It is a sacrament, is it not?
Here’s the definition of sacrament I learned in seminary: “An outward and visible sign of an inward, invisible grace. A ceremony, in which a sacred or spiritual power is believed to be transmitted through material elements viewed as channels of divine grace.”
This perfectly describes the bread and the wine and the sacrament of Communion. But it also perfectly describes the writing, sending and receiving a note. There are the “material elements” of paper and pen as “channels of divine grace” and the “ceremony” of opening and reading.
This does not mean however, that to be sacramental, a note has to be flattering. It can also be a loving challenge. (Ooh, deep sucking in of breath here, but stay with me.) Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for one another is offer deeply thoughtful criticism and authentic questions in our attempt to understand one another.
I have received those too and my admiration for the writer soared. It is difficult to write a loving note of challenge or questions. Those too go in my Monday file because I believe any thoughtful note is Spirit loving me through another, is “an outward and visible sign of an inward invisible blessing.”
I’m pretty sure St. John didn’t have the U.S. Post Office in mind when he wrote this letter to the believers in Ephesus, but I think he’d agree with me. Write on.