Writing Letters for Lent

Writing Letters for Lent March 3, 2014

One of the best books I’ve read over the past couple of years, of any kind, was the beautiful, moving, and hard sort-of-spiritual memoir, Love and Salt: A Spiritual Friendship in Letters by Amy Andrews and Jessica Griffith. Amy and Jess started writing to one another during Lent 2005, when Amy was preparing to convert to Catholicism and Jess was serving formally as her sponsor, and less formally as her friend. As I wrote in my review for a Patheos Book Club,

In writing so beautifully, honestly, and eloquently to each other, in telling their stories as individuals and as friends on a common quest for God, Amy Andrews and Jessica Griffith speak to our hearts in order to direct our minds toward God. Theirs is not a pastel-washed, sentimental faith, however. Rather, the words they speak from their hearts, to each others’ hearts and the hearts of their readers, are trustworthy precisely because of the intellectual thirst and rigor with which they have also pursued theology, and because of their willingness to abide with the terrible knowledge that God loves us and still we suffer. The result is a unique work in which intellect and emotion are both given pride of place, both recognized as vitally important in the quest for God.

I want to shove this book into the hands of everyone with a skewed, incomplete vision of what it means to live a faithful Christian life, everyone who chops the God of the universe and the God of the cross into manageable bits with too much sentiment or too much theology or too much flat reason unleavened with story, everyone who dares believe they have God or God’s absence all figured out.

Here, you evangelicals who have the nerve to ask whether Catholics are “real” Christians. Here, you atheists who dismiss believers as blithe naïfs incapable of pondering the world’s contradictions and agony as you do. Here, you “spiritual but not religious” folk who see ancient rituals and requirements of organized religion as nothing more than superficial performance. Here, you theologians with your jargon and dry seven-point lists that cannot possibly speak to someone awake at 3 a.m., weeping and twisting in her bedsheets. Here is a testimony to what the life of faith is really like. It is messy. It is lovely. It is heartbreaking. It is joyful. It is paradox. It is true.

If you are looking for a book to read during Lent, let this be the one. And if you are looking for a Lenten discipline different from the usual “give something up” variety, consider the Lenten challenge posed by Love and Salt authors Jess and Amy, to write a letter to a friend (preferably, the same friend) every day this Lent (or during some other set period of time, if your Lent is already spoken for). See if sharing your daily thoughts and struggles, even your daily mundane activities and dull observations, enriches your spiritual life (and your friendship) as it did theirs.

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