john davies
notes from a small curate

updated regularly
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Love Letters

    Holy Trinity Parish Communion 27/10/02

    1 Thessalonians 2.1-8

    Love God - love your neighbour. The whole of Christianity comes down to those simple words. They're all that Jesus tells us to do. But as we all know, it's a job and a half living up to them. It will take us a lifetime to satisfy them.

    We are full of love sometimes, but at other times full of frustration, full of pain, full of anger. All of which stop us loving. We have to find a way to let the love back in.

    A deeply insightful writer from another spiritual tradition, Thich Nhat Hanh, puts it this way:

      "Anger is in us in the form of a seed. The seeds of love and compassion are also there. In our consciousness, there are many negative seeds and also many positive seeds. The practice is to avoid watering the negative seeds, and to identify and water the positive seeds every day."
    One way of watering the positive seeds, of letting the love back in, is to write love letters.

    That's what St Paul did all the time. He wrote love letters to the little groups of Christians scattered around Europe, who he'd met on his travels and who supported him in prayer and giving. We heard this morning one of his love letters, the one where he tells the Thessalonians,

      We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2.8)
    Imagine how you'd feel about the Bishop if he wrote to tell you how much he loved you. A bit taken aback, probably but maybe also strangely uplifted. If that happened, you could appreciate how love might grow between you. And how the church could grow in the quality of our relationships.

    Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a story about love letters, which illustrates this point so well that I've decided to devote the rest of this sermon to it.

      There is a French woman who kept old love letters from her husband. He wrote her beautiful letters before they married. Every time she got a letter from him, she savoured every sentence - every word - it was so sweet, so understanding, so full of love. She was delighted whenever she got a letter, so she kept all his letters in a biscuit box.

      One morning, while she was rearranging her cupboards, she discovered the ancient biscuit box where she stored all his letters. It had been a long time since she had seen it. The box of letters told of the most wonderful time, when she young, when they loved each other and believed that without each other they could not survive.

      But in the past several years, both husband and wife had suffered a lot. They didn't enjoy looking at each other any more. They didn't enjoy talking to each other any more. They didn't write letters to each other any more.

      The day before she found the box, her husband informed her that he had to go on a business trip. He did not find it pleasant to stay home, and perhaps he was looking for a little bit of happiness or pleasure on his trips. She was aware of that.

      When her husband told her that he had to go to New York for a meeting, she said, "If you have work to do, please go ahead." She had grown used to this: it was very ordinary. Then, instead of returning home as planned, he telephoned and said, "I have to stay two more days, because there are things I still need to do." She accepted his very easily, because even when he was at home, she was not happy.

      After hanging up, she began to rearrange her cupboard and she discovered the box. It was a box of Lu biscuits - a very famous brand in France. She was curious because it had been a long time since she opened that box. She put down her duster, opened the box, and smelled something very familiar. She took out one of the letters and she stood there and read it. How sweet was the letter! His language was full of understanding and love. She felt very refreshed, like a piece of dry land finally exposed to the rain.

      She opened another letter to read because it was so wonderful. Finally she brought the whole box of letters to the table; sat down, and read one after another until she finished all forty-six of them. The seeds of her past happiness were still there. They had been buried under many layers of suffering - but they were still there.

      So, while reading that letter he wrote when he was young and full of love, she felt the seeds of happiness in her begin to be watered.

      When you do something like this, you water the seeds of happiness that lie deep within your consciousness. In the recent past, her husband had not been using that kind of language at all. But now, when reading the letters, she could hear her husband speaking in that sweet way. Happiness had been a reality for them. Why did they now live in a kind of hell? She could hardly remember that he used to talk to her like that, but it had been a reality. He was able to talk to her in that kind of language.

      During the hour and a half she spent reading all these letters, she watered the seeds of happiness in herself. She realised that both of them had been unskilful. They had watered the seeds of suffering in each other, and they had not been able to water the seeds of happiness. After reading all the letters, she was motivated by the desire top sit down and write him a letter to tell him how happy she was at that time, in the beginning of their relationship. She wrote that she wished the happiness of those golden years could be rediscovered and recreated. And now she could again call him "My beloved one"with all honesty and sincerity.

      She spent forty-five minutes writing that letter. It was a real love letter - addressed to the charming young man who had written the letters she kept in a box. Reading his letters and then writing a letter took about three hours. It was almost like a time of prayer, though she did not know she was praying.

      After having written the letter, she felt very light inside. The letter had not yet been delivered; her husband had not yet read it; but she felt much better because the seeds of happiness had been reawakened - they had been watered. She went upstairs and put the letter on his desk. And for the rest of the day, she was happy. She was happy just because the letters had watered the positive seeds in her.

      While reading the letter and writing to her husband, she gained some insight. Neither of them had been skilful. Neither of them knew how to preserve the happiness they deserved. In their speech, in their actions, they created hell for each other. Both accepted living as a family, as a couple, but they no longer had any happiness. After having understood this, she was confident that if both of them tried to practice, happiness could be restored. She became full of hope and no longer suffered as she had in the past years.

      When her husband came home, he went upstairs, and he saw the letter on his desk. In the letter, she wrote: "I'm partly responsible for our suffering, for the fact that we don't have the happiness that both of us deserve. Let us make peace, harmony and happiness a reality again."

      He spent a lot of time reading the letter and looking deeply into what she had written. He did not know that he was practising meditation. But he was practising also, because by reading his wife's letter, the seeds of happiness in him were also watered. He stayed upstairs for a long time, looking deeply and getting the same insight that she had gained the day before. Because of that, both of them had a chance to begin anew and to restore their happiness.

      Nowadays, people, lovers, don't write letters to each other any more. They just pick up the phone and say "Are you free tonight? Shall we go out?" Or send a text. That's all, and you have nothing to keep. That is a pity.

      We must learn to write love letters again. Write to your beloved one; he may be your father or your son. She may be your daughter, your mother, your sister, or your friend. They may be church people, colleagues, neighbours. Like the woman in the story, like Paul to the Christians in Thessalonica, take time to write down your gratitude and love.

    Story taken from Anger, Buddhist Wisdom for Cooling The Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh; published as Love Letters in Resurgence 215, Nov/Dec 2002; slightly amended here [back]

      Intercessions 27/10/02 - Love Letters

      If you were to write a letter of love, who would it be to?
      Perhaps a person you have loved dearly but find it hard to love just now.
      Perhaps someone you see who seems unloved, unwanted, lost, who needs to feel some love.
      Perhaps one or more with whom you share something special, people who have given you much over the years

      Each of these people, precious to God, we lift to God today.
      Lord, hear us
      Lord, graciously hear us.

      If you were to write a letter of love, what would it say?
      Would it say sorry for having been unloving?
      Would it say thank you for all the love shared between us?
      Would it try to encourage and strengthen the other person?

      Each of these thoughts, precious to God, we lift to God today.
      Lord, hear us
      Lord, graciously hear us.

      We pray for love to spread in the church
      That God's people will rediscover just how dear we are to God
      Just how precious we are to each other.
      That Christrians from very different places, backgrounds, cultures
      Would discover how to share a common life and love together,
      Demonstrating to the world that we follow Christ.
      Lord, hear us
      Lord, graciously hear us.

      We pray for love to spread in the world
      That world leaders will learn how to communicate to each other with tolerance and understanding.
      That systems of justice would be truly just,
      That systems of trade would be equitable,
      That other ways would be found to deal with disputes than bearing arms.
      Lord, hear us
      Lord, graciously hear us.

      We pray for love to spread in the lives of the needy
      Thosee we do not know but are aware of:
      Sufferers from war famine and disease in the world's poorest lands,
      Those closer to home who are suffering in mind, body and spirit ......
      We pray for those who have lost loved ones and are very sad, and for those departed this life as God receives them in mercy and love ......

      As we look forward to sharing with them in eternal love,
      Help us to pray and work for the kingdom of heaven here on earth today,
      In the small things, in loving gestures.

      Merciful Father
      Accept these prayers
      for the sake of your Son
      our saviour Jesus Christ. Amen