By Peter Malinoski, Ph. D.
Handwritten letters are as ancient as the written word and now are becoming as scarce as fountain pens. In our modern world of immediate communications, handwritten letters can seem antiquated, unnecessary and even a waste of time. However, a handwritten letter holds much more than the words on a page; it provides a unique vehicle for holiness and human connection.
1. Handwritten letters let us say exactly what we want.
One beautiful thing about handwritten letters is that we have time. We’re not caught up in an immediate exchange with our correspondent. We have the space to be more thoughtful, considering the phrases to convey our meaning without time pressure or the emotional intensity of immediate contact with the other person. This helps us to engage with our emotions and to think more clearly.
2. Snail-mailed letters give space to the recipient.
Handwritten letters don’t demand that recipients respond immediately. There is space and time to take in the contents, to let them slowly permeate the reader, outside of the hustle-and-bustle of the digital world. Letters can be read and re-read at leisure, savored in peace and recollection. People set aside time to read letters – there’s a ritual that goes with the opening of the envelope, the removal of the letter, the unfolding of the stationery.
3. Writing letters connects us in the moment.
In a beautiful way, we are engaged with our recipients as we write. When we think of them, we connect with them in our minds and hearts. When we physically write letters, we also connect with our bodies. Remembering shared times activates the memory centers in our brains, resulting in a myriad of neurochemical changes, some of which mimic the reactions caused by actual contact people.
4. Handwritten letters bring the Body of Christ together.
As Catholic Christians, we’re all an important and unique part of the Body of Christ, the Church Militant on earth. Handwritten letters and the connections they foster have a special way of expressing ourselves as being made in the image and likeness of Christ—and appreciating that fact in others.
5. Writing a letter is personal and intimate.
No two human beings have the same handwriting, it’s as unique as fingerprints. We recognize the writing of those who are close to us, and we have emotional reactions to it. We know at a deep level, there was no “cutting and pasting” of typed text in the letter; every word was considered, composed, and created on the stationery. Both the writer and the reader are engaged with the same paper and ink, which leads to a material connection between the two people in the real (i.e. non-virtual) world.
6. Handwritten letters provide a legacy.
A client once found a photo in his deceased father’s possessions; nothing remarkable was in the photo. However, what was so important to him was on the back: his father had written notes about the photo. This was the only handwriting he had from his father, and it was very dear to him. Unlike the ephemeral bits and bytes in our email, Twitter and Facebook accounts, handwritten letters have a permanence about them. They last. And they are cherished by their recipients.
7. Letters written by hand are deeply Catholic.
St. Luke’s Gospel and his Acts of the Apostles are written as letters to “Theophilus.” Of the other 25 books of the New Testament, 21 are letters. These are the epistles, a Greek word for “letter,” and they were written to inform, instruct, support, share, and to strengthen the faith, hope and love in the fledging Christian community. They are an essential part of the history of our faith.