St Andrew, Glencairn

Glencairn Methodist Church

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February 2015

Recently I spent a few days in hospital for hip joint replacement surgery. I am halfway through my period of convalescence, but since I am not getting out as much as usual,  I have been able to reduce the height of the pile of books I have acquired but not yet read. One such book is "To the Letter" by Simon Garfield and this was a present from my daughter at Christmas 2013, so I still have a way to go!
The blurb tells us that "To the Letter tells the story of our mail. From Roman wood chips discovered near Hadrian 's Wall to the wonders and terrors of email. Simon Garfield explores how we have written to each other over the centuries and what our letters reveal about our lives." The author is clearly quite excited about this topic. He gives lots of extracts of fascinating correspondence between people both famous and not. He discusses some of the Letter Writing guides that have been published over the centuries - how to address the recipient, what to include and how to end.

One topic he is particularly keen on is romantic correspondence or love letters. Sometimes I felt a bit voyeuristic, but persevered in the interests of research! One set of letters paints a 12th century philosopher-monk in a bad light, but never the less, the correspondence has been of great interest for centuries. The monk, Abelard, falls in love with his young pupil, Heloise, seduces her and they produce a child, with the usual unfortunate consequences. Despite Abelard being castrated by Heloise's guardian, Heloise committed to a convent and the baby adopted, their love persists changing from lust to faithfulness as the years pass. But you can read this for yourself in Wikipedia.
Garfield brings us right up to date and discusses electronic media like email, facebook and Twitter. He laments that future generations will have no series of letters to read, collect and buy and sale.
Two omissions struck me. There was no mention of the phenomenon of exchanging Christmas cards, and the letters of the New Testament.
A few of my friends have taken to send e-cards and give the money saved to charity. Perhaps this is the way to go, but sending cards helps keep card manufacturers and post persons in employment and Christmas cards help give one's home a festive feeling.
There is a passing reference to St Paul's letters as an example of devotional love, and it is understandable that Garfield did not want to delve further into theology, but the letters of Paul, Peter, John, James and the writer Hebrews are about much more. They tend to follow the usual first century letter style of greeting, body material and ending. They are a great treasure to the church and we should cherish them. Not only do they speak of the great love God has for his church, but they contain much valuable teaching, exposition of the Gospel message. Many also have personal touches relevant to the particular church they are addressed to such as admonition and correction for those who are misinterpreting previous instruction or are behaving in ways unbecoming to their professed Christianity.
Two other things, concerning other Biblical books, occurred to me. First the lovely Song of Songs could easily be the romantic exchange of two young lovers on Twitter, hopefully in private! (Or maybe Twitter does not have a privacy button? Anyway I am sure some electronic communications app permits privacy!)
The second thing is that the two books written by St Luke, namely his Gospel and the book of Acts, are long letters to his friend Theophillis. It might be interesting to read them as letters, reporting on his research and including personal involvement with St Paul and some of his companions.
Happy reading and happy letter-writing.


14 February 2015


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