I’ve always been impressed with people who are able to get out Christmas letters every December. My late father-in-law sent such letters for decades to an ever growing list of relatives and friends and colleagues. I joked that his stamp buying alone must have kept his local Post Office in business. The letter updated everyone on how he and his family were doing. Towards the end of his life it was pretty much just another opportunity to brag about his grandchildren. Every now and then I still receive the occasional letter that begins updating everyone on the family. Some quickly turn into an attempt to justify one’s existence. For example – “This year my 2nd grader is reading at a 5th grade level. I completed another marathon with my personal best time yet and enjoyed a month long anniversary trip to Europe.” Maybe my judgmental response upon reading such letters is more about jealousy. Most often, of course, I receive Christmas cards depicting a nice family picture. Even this seems an impossible task for me – to find the space to get the picture taken and the cards prepared and mailed.
As unlikely as it is for me to get my act together for the annual Christmas letter mailing, writing notes is important to me. There are many times I fall out of the practice and go through seasons of not writing as much, but for the most part it’s a practice learned from my mother that I value and try to keep. On many occasions, after sending someone a note card they tell me they rarely get that type of mail anymore. I know that’s true because not only do I rarely get such mail, I don’t send as many letters myself.
I share all this not as a way of suggesting everyone take up the art of note writing daily. Rather, I have been thinking lately about this discipline as one of the ways we can tend to relationship building with one another. And surely there are many other disciplines that assist us in nurturing and strengthening relationships. Conversation over coffee or lunch or a walk. Small groups and accountability circles and worship.
What I do know is that these remain tender, tenuous times. And given these times, nurturing relationships and building them up is important. It is a courageous and healthy thing to move closer to one another.
Over the Thanksgiving break my family and I watched the new Netflix move “Klaus.” Despite the not-so-glowing reviews, I liked the movie. In many ways it is yet another “Where did we get the legend of Santa Claus?” story. But it is so much more. It’s also about community and the power we have to create better communities. The central character is Jesper who is the spoiled son of the man who runs the international postal academy. As an act of tough love, Jesper is sent to a remote village near the Arctic Circle and instructed to revive the post office there. When he lands he finds all the townspeople at war with one another. There is much else I’ll leave you to discover on your own if you haven’t watched the movie but want to. I’ll just say that the letter writing transforms people and the transformed people transform the village. Oh – and of course it’s the children who lead the way.
This Advent season we practice a variety of spiritual disciplines to draw us deeper into the gifts the season has to offer. This article is not a hint for you to drop me a note! But it is an invitation to reach out to someone you’ve been meaning to write. Phyllis Theroux says, “To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.” And as St. Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Thessalonica: “Speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it.”
Blessings on your Advent journey!