Prose – Letters and Faith

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By Bill Pugh 

On a weekday afternoon, I sometimes hear the periodic squeak of brakes coming along the street. Mark, our postie, on his motor cycle, is delivering the mail. We pause for a chat and he hands over the mail. I look for hand addressed envelopes. Hopefully from life-long friends in Darwin, or country Victoria. Neither have email. I prefer handwritten letters, something special about handwriting, taught in our state schools years ago.

We have Dad’s postcards sent while he was recuperating from wounds received on the Western Front in WW1. Yellowing with age, but beautifully handwritten. One to Mother and Dad, addressed to the vicarage at Rokewood, another to sister Sibby still at home. One to his oldest brother, ”Dear old Roy”. To Keith, in boarding school, suggesting he has been too busy with homework to write. A gem to his little brother Bas, who will eventually be a slave labourer on the Burma Railway. The postcards do not mention his wounds, or the war. He writes with love for each, their doings, looking forward to being home for a family Christmas.

How personal are handwritten letters, how effective in strengthening faith. Love.

Letters From Cell 92 contain personal and loving correspondence between German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his fiancée, Maria Von Wedemeyer, tenderly expressing love for each other, looking with hope to a married life they will never have. Maria plans furniture for the apartment where they will live. Looking out the window hoping for a letter from his Berlin cell she muses, “I’m forever picturing how it ought to be – that the door will suddenly open and you will be standing there before me. What shall I do? I’ll write you a letter.” He was hanged by the Nazis in 1945 just before VE Day.

The New Testament contains letters, in which Paul and his friends correspond with the Early Church. In a personal letter to Philemon he appeals for forgiveness for a runaway slave, Onesimus, including a signed IOU promising to pay in full whatever Onesimus owes. Later Paul writes a letter to the Colossians to be delivered personally, by Tychicus and Onesimus. He concludes, “With my own hand I write this: Greetings from Paul. Do not forget my chains”.

Dad continued to write to each of his family in turn, on Sunday evenings, to his children wherever they were, to his two sons overseas in WWII. His strong handwriting says much.

Forced to defend his authenticity, Paul lists his tests of faith in a letter to Corinthians: imprisoned, beaten, facing death, stoned, and shipwrecked, adrift in the open sea, hungry, thirsty and cold. Yet he can write to the Romans, “I am persuaded that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, who has proved his love for us”. From prison he writes to the Philippians a very personal letter of encouragement, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. He can be taken very seriously indeed. The letter experiences of Paul handwriting, heart speaking. Inspirational and real for me.

To Corinth Paul includes a hymn in praise of love. A priceless gift, surpassing faith and hope, which still abide. Adding the postmark of heaven.

Love is eternal.

Bill Pugh is a writer and retired minister from Leighmoor Uniting Church.

Image by Meredith Harris via Flickr.

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