We’d All Be Lunatics

We’d All Be Lunatics February 3, 2013

Writing, for me, is a form of praying.  I often think of John 1:1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

In my office drawer is a folder filled with cards from people who have walked alongside me for a season. I can open any of those cards and recall the voice of that person and the experiences we shared, whether it be a friend from high school, a roommate from college, or an old lover. Oh. Wait. I think I burned all those. On my frig I have laminated a note from one of my daughters, written when she was eight or nine. She tells me all the things she is thankful for, including the joy of being my “dotter.”

Letters from loved ones are some of my most treasured possessions. If at some point you sent me a letter and shared your heart with me, there’s a good possibility that I still have that letter somewhere. 

I used to be an excellent letter writer. As a military kid, I started writing letters to Granny Leona as soon as I could string a sentence together. I think of those early scribbles as my training-wheels period for the writer I would become one day.

Imagine my delight then in discovering Love & Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Letters, by Amy Andrews and Jessica Mesman Griffith. (Loyola Press).

Theirs is not a life-long friendship, though I fully expect it will be given all that these two have shared. They met in 2005 at a creative writing workshop, drawn together by the Word, quite literally. Jess, leaving behind all things familiar in Louisiana, and Amy, searching for something deeper than her agnostic  upbringing. When Amy converts to Catholicism, she asks Jess to be her sponsor. Their friendship deepens and their letter-writing takes on that tone common to those of us who have read the exchanges between C.S. Lewis and Sheldon Vanauken.

Intimate missives about God and doubt.

Imploring questions about the mysteries of life and the certainty of death.

Much of the remarkable about this book can be attributed to the time at which these two begin their exchanges. A lot of life happens to them along the way– career shifts, marriage, and babies.

It is the letters exchanged in the days leading to and the notes from letters never sent following the stillborn birth of Amy’s daughter, Clare, that echo the questions that Sheldon put to Lewis all those years ago. “Daily Mass is not an obvious comfort. When I kneel there in the dark, all I can think of is her casket sitting on the low stool in front of that altar. And yet, every day I go back,” Amy writes.

This act of going back should not be dismissed lightly. For it is this thing that speaks not to our doubts, but to our faith. That even in our deepest moments of despair, when all seems lost, we cling to a routine that while not exactly comforting, it at least brings us to our knees.

“Faith does not erase suffering but it changes it,” Amy writes later. “It  is like the difference you would imagine between lying on your deathbed alone or lying on your deathbed with someone you love holding your hand… It makes all the difference in the world to die one way than the other.” 

Jess often writes of her own mother, who died when Jess was a young girl. So, even here, between Jess and Amy we see the Poet God at work again –forging friendships between the motherless daughter and the daughterless mother.

I laughed out loud at Jess’s comments after she read through the Collected Works of Flannery O’Connor, one of my own personal favorites: It’s blasphemy for a Catholic writer to say so, but I’m relieved to be done with O’Connor. 

Jess called reading O’Connor a “grinding chore.”

“Sometimes, we do need an O’Connor to shake us awake. But we can’t remain forever in that heightened state. We’d all be lunatics.” 

I don’t know about O’Connor but it is most certainly true that without a good friend to help us along our way, we would all be lunatics.

I’m giving away a copy of Love & Salt. Leave me a note below telling me whose friendship has helped build your faith and I’ll enter your name into the drawing for this stirring read.

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  • Debbie

    If I don’t win, I will go and buy this book to read, thanks for your story about these two.

  • Rachel

    My friend, Janet, who lives in Canada. We met 7 years ago at our church camp when my husband and I were sitting at a picnic table to eat which had an empty spot across from us. They invited themselves to sit and eat with us…and she’s become a sister from another mother. We spent 2 hours talking on the phone this week catching up on life while I gained another perspective on a difficult situation our family found itself in at the end of last year. We have cried together, prayed together, and talked for hours. Seeing each other only 2 or 3 times a year, when we do meet it’s as though we’ve never parted. I have her letters all tied up in a string tucked away in a special box.

    I have letters from Great Aunts who are no longer on this earth. I have the one note my dad ever wrote to me welcoming me home from college one year. I have kept the notes my mother put on the OUTSIDE of my care packages I received in college…as well as the cards. Notes that come in the mail, unexpectedly, mean the most to me. I have them all. Beautiful blog post!

  • Virginia D.

    I believe that God speaks to us through His Word, our Bible, as well as through preachers in pulpits and family and friends as well. When distance or events separate us, letters–be they from God above by way of a Bible filled with poetry, manuscripts, and epistles or from Mom at home or a friend who has moved far away –are a source of strength during times of sorrow and weakness. My friend, River Jordan, grew up in the days of letters, and the letters I have received from her have been uplifting (even if her handwriting is nearly illegible), but the epistle that stands out in my mind was the one she wrote to one of my daughters who was going through great loss. She told her that not only was she going to “get through this” but also that she was going to rise above it and that it would be a stepping stone to a better path. Well, her words were a lot better than that, but since it wasn’t my letter to keep, I can’t go get it out of the drawer and copy it, but it left a soothing balm on this mother’s heart and brought tears to my eyes because I knew it was the truth. And I knew God had inspired her to write it. Thanks for sharing, Karen. God bless you.

    • Virginia: You are the winner of Love & Salt. Email me your address and I will get the book in the mail to you! Thanks everyone for entering!

  • Carmen

    When reading your question the first person who comes to mind is Momma. I am one of those people blessed to have a mother who is also my friend. Whenever I have a faith question she’s the one I call. Whenever I need to share an inspiration she’s the first person I tell. We have always been close. We can talk about anything. The past year was filled with struggles that tear at the threads of faith (her mother’s illness and the loss of our pastor of 38 years to name two). For the first time in our lives, I’ve felt like I was the one she can call on in times of weakness…and she has. Which means she’s raised me right. I am so thankful God lent me to her and I am so proud to call her my friend.

  • Mary M Bartram

    Well you of course Karen. I believe that people come into our lifes at times when we really don’t need a friend but there they are. You feel like they have always been your friend and you have known them your whole life and yet you just met them. You are that kind of person, Karen. The kind of person I want to be. Not afraid to stand up for what is wrong or right. Always, loving even when it hurts. I think if I look in my dictionary for the word “christian” Your picture would be there.

  • Estella Shockley

    My mother-in-law is my friend and through her, my faith is renewed daily. She is now 92. I met her when I was 15 and at 66, she is still my friend. When I need answers, when I need to talk, when I just want to sit with someone who gets it, she is the one. Her unconditional love for my son and I has been the greatest blessing. Truthfully, she taught me how to love unconditionally. In all my messes, she was always there, guiding me, praying for me, raising my son, allowing me to run hither, dither and yon, never a harsh word, knowing that love, patience and time heals all hurts. I cannot find the right words, so to answer the question Karen, and you know some of the history–because of Mrs. Shockley’s unwavering faith in God and her unconditional love, I have found the faith that guides her life and now mine.

  • Steve T

    A few weeks ago Sheryl pulled outback bundle of letters I had written her when we had just begun dating. She had gone to visit a cousin for the summer. I was just smitten. Infatuation. The firestorm of teenaged love. Burning hot for the moment and then gone. As I was reading the letters of a boy on the precipice of manhood, I heard all the fear and fumbling intertwined with the excitement and exuberance of new possibility. And it was all … wonder.

  • Gregory C. Jewell

    53 years ago as a young altar boy, I served a newly ordained priest’s first mass in

    his first parish assignment in rural Pampa, Texas. That friendship, though lost for

    some years, has grown and intensified and is in full bloom to this day. As a young

    man, he taught me the real meaning of faith; that it is not a right, but a gift from

    God. To be good at faith one has to constantly practice that faith, as an athlete

    hones his skills by daily practice. He has buried, married and baptized my parents,

    our children and grandchildren. He has always been the light that I needed when

    in doubt or in darkness of a loss along the way. I was honored three years ago
    when he asked me to serve his golden jubilee
    mass celebrating 50 years of priesthood. In his homily he mentioned the many years
    of friendship we had and introduced me as the oldest altar boy he has ever had
    serving one of his masses. At the age of 80 he is still teaching seminarians as
    a spiritual director the real meaning of faith and friendship with and through Christ,
    the Light of the world. Should the good Lord see fit, I pray that I will be there for
    him to hold his hand when the Master says to him: “well done good and faithful
    servant, enter the kingdom that my Father has prepared for you”. This is faith
    and friendship fulfilled.
    Gregory C. Jewell