Monday, September 7, 2009

Quotation of the Week and the Joy of Epistles

(My desk, with sepia ink and rosewood pen, and other ink bottles and feather-tipped pens in background)

As I opened my quotation journal, an inexpensive spiral-bound book with a spray of light purple lilacs on the yellow cover, I was struck by a quote on the first page. Dated August 4, 2001, the quotation was taken from Scripture -- an Epistle, to be precise.

The word "epistle" has always been one of my words. I think that people who write have a special set of words that send a cappuccino-shot of joy into mind and heart, and "epistle" has long been one of those words for me. Besides the Scriptural meaning of letters written by Saint Paul and others that now belong to our New Testament (which a former Sunday School teacher called "The New Deal"), the word "epistle" brings a slightly different connotation to my mind.

I'm a letter-writer. Nothing pleases me more than taking out my embossed stationery -- thick cream paper with my name in raised navy-blue script on the front of the card and my name and address embossed on the matching envelope flap -- along with a favorite pen, and sitting down to write a letter. I have a passion for old-fashioned writing implements as well. I write most frequently in my daily activities with a Waterman fountain pen, a marbled dark blue one with gold trim which allows my arthritic hand to glide across pages and pages with little discomfort as I don't have to press down while writing. At times I use the fountain pen for correspondence, but most often I pull out a different, even more old-fashioned writing instrument: a long rosewood pen with a thin metal nib (which can be removed and replaced with nibs of differing widths for differing effects) that I dip into a glass bottle of sepia ink (see above photo in which both are pictured). Sometimes ink blotches mar the page, but the gentle scratching of nib against paper is so incredibly satisfying -- a sound that settles my soul into a peace-filled place.

I have other wooden and metal "dip pens," for lack of a better word. They possess no ink supply of their own, so they must be "dipped" into ink to produce writing. Keith made a mahogany pen for me many years ago that I use when I want a different nib style. I also have a real feather pen cut to a point by a pen knife(just like Jane Austen!), and a brass nib-and-staff pen topped with a green feather that I also use at times (both feather pens are in the background of above photo). Where do I get most of my pens? Barnes and Noble, believe it or not, although the delicate nibs I prefer are found at Blick where I can buy them singly rather than in collections of all different nib widths from other arts and crafts stores.

And inks! I can use a basic black or blue ink just fine, but it's the opportunity for unusual colors that also draws me to bottles of ink. Right now I'm using blue Waterman refills for my fountain pen rather than the small device included with my pen that allows for drawing up ink from any bottle (which gets a bit messy at times, often staining my hands with queer colors). I wrote with sepia ink in the fountain pen for the first year I owned it, but I currently prefer blue (and non-messy) plastic refills. But as I cleaned out the last three boxes in the clearance section at Office Depot, I will have to return to stained fingers when I run out of refills and am forced to refill my fountain pen myself. Inks of red, burgundy, gold, blue, sepia/brown, and black sit on my desk; I recently finished the bottle of green ink I've used on Christmas cards for more years than I can count, and I would like to add violet and turquoise to my collection. Ink is an inexpensive pleasure and one that brings me great joy.

Besides the stationery and writing instruments, the simple act of writing a REAL, honest-to-goodness letter rather than an electronic missive brings pleasure to me and, I hope, to the receiver. Somehow, the letters I write sort of write themselves in that I feel more like a scribe than a writer as words of encouragement flow from my pen. I believe that the Holy Spirit of the Living, Loving God is at work, composing the words and phrases that will bring the most pleasure and encouragement to the receiver of the letter. I love the feeling of being the Lord's scribe -- to feel His Spirit moving the pen in my hand, laying down word after word, phrase after phrase, of life-giving encouragement.

Each day I receive a little daily meditation from the works of Henri Nouwen, the late Catholic priest who wrote so deeply about the contemplative life in Christ. The meditation I received this morning read:

To bless means to say good things. We have to bless one another constantly. Parents need to bless their children, children their parents, husbands their wives, wives their husbands, friends their friends. In our society, so full of curses, we must fill each place we enter with our blessings. We forget so quickly that we are God's beloved children and allow the many curses of our world to darken our hearts. Therefore we have to be reminded of our belovedness and remind others of theirs. Whether the blessing is given in words or with gestures, in a solemn or an informal way, our lives need to be blessed lives.
Writing epistles is a way of blessing others. Whether I write a simple thank-you note (of which I have been writing many lately) or a letter to a dear friend, God uses the opportunity for blessing as He guides each word and phrase that flows from my pen nib. And writing thus not only blesses the receiver; I am blessed deeply as I write to others. Writing notes and letters to dear friends who need whispers encouragement is one of my favorite things to do: I always pray for them as my pen moves across the page, bestowing blessings.

In this age of electronic media, the handwritten letter is becoming a lost art. Yet it is one that should not die out, for it brings much blessing both to the writer and to the receiver. Writing letters is a beautiful way to express esteem and love for our friends and our family members. A handwritten note left on a child's pillow speaks tangibly of our love for him or her. It's an art and a blessing that I hope will never disappear, even as it falls into disuse.

But even through e-mail we can write blessings. I enjoy using different fonts and colors that somewhat resemble handwritten words when sending e-mails to friends -- a little touch that lets them know I am thinking of them and care for them. But I vastly prefer paper and pen to keyboard and fonts.

And now that I've written quite an epistle myself here, I suppose that I should share the epistle that started this post about letter-writing. As I mentioned above, this quotation is inscribed on the very first page of my journal, and with my days becoming increasingly busy this week with the addition of our co-op Class Days starting this Thursday and a new online Brave Writer MLA course beginning next Monday, this Scripture struck me as being extremely appropriate:

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.

-- Colossians 3:23-24, King James Version

So as my days grow increasingly hectic with homeschooling four children, tutoring, teaching co-op and online courses, writing two language subscriptions each month for Brave Writer, return to our inductive Bible study group at church tomorrow (Tuesday), facilitate our local writers' workshop, and attempt to find time to read Les Miserables with our literary group at church, plus keep up Dr. Burns' website in exchange for chiropractic treatment, help with our local home school Park Day, and, above all, be a wife and mom too, I need to keep this verse in mind.

I may even copy it onto a Post-It note and stick it to my bathroom mirror to remind myself each morning as I get up, daunted by the many tasks ahead of me, and each night before I go to bed, often dissatisfied with not completing everything on my to-do list ... again: I serve the Lord Christ. Not myself and my too-high expectations, especially with several chronic pain/auto-immune challenges that sap my strength and energy. Not other people, no matter how much I desire to please them.

I serve the Lord Christ, and Him alone.


Anne said...

Susanne, have your seen Lavie Graphite or Little Flower Petals blogs? They both do a lot with old fashioned writing instruments-you might like them! They are both awesome writers as well!

Susanne Barrett said...

I follow La Vie Graphite already -- will check the other. Thanks as always, Anne. :)


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