Giving up chocolate for Lent is a spiritual practice I never quite understood. How would abstinence from sweets bring one closer to God? Last year, I decided to try a new spiritual practice. Rather than giving something up, I would take on a challenging daily discipline. That seemed more in line with the spirit and intention of Lent.
Craving something both meaningful and challenging, I decided to recapture the lost art of letter writing by sending daily greeting cards via snail mail. On Shrove Tuesday, “40 Cards in 40 Days” became my mantra as I organized a basket with assorted blank notecards, stamps, pens and the beginnings of a mailing list. Programming my phone with a daily reminder, I anticipated reconnecting with friends and relatives, surprising them at their mailbox and expressing appreciation to those I often take for granted.
The first few cards were easy. I relished beginning my day with a cup of tea and handwriting expressions of love and gratitude to unsuspecting family members. Imagining their surprised reactions delighted me. But as the long Lenten weeks unfolded, my little project soon became an onerous obligation. Running out of people and running out of time, the challenge of locating current addresses posed an additional unexpected problem. Since I no longer maintain an address book, I had to search online, Googling postal codes and unravelling the logic of rural routes.
Midway through, I was dismayed to realize I had miscalculated the number of days — the traditional 40 days of Lent don’t include Sundays. But I was writing on Sundays, meaning I’d need to send 46 cards to keep the practice going every day until Easter. Exhausting my supply of family and close friends, I wrestled with whether to send cards to congregants, but worried this could show favouritism.
I began to create rules: each day’s card must be written by midnight, but could be mailed the following morning. I could count birthday or sympathy cards I would have sent anyway. I decided it was acceptable if certain people received more than one card.
As Easter dawned, I was surprised to feel a twinge of regret at seeing the final card in my basket. For all its challenges and occasional drudgery, this spiritual practice had been rewarding and meaningful. The physical discipline of handwriting without benefit of spellcheck or editing meant carefully considering my thoughts before putting pen to paper. Beginning each day by writing to those I care about had the added and unexpected result of holding them in prayer all week. Long-lost friends were pleased to reconnect, and close family members appreciated the recognition and compliments. I came to realize I should express my gratitude more often.
The greatest result came months later, when handwritten cards arrived in my own mailbox as inspired friends found the time to respond. Their letters fed my soul with delicious and heartwarming words of love. I now find myself more frequently sending handwritten notes, even in this world of instant communication.
Overall, it was satisfying to finally understand the greater purpose behind taking on a Lenten practice, and to value the impact of a simple, yet thoughtful, gesture. Through commitment and daily discipline, I persevered and emerged not only rewarded, but transformed — which captures the true spirit and meaning of Easter.
Rev. Elise Feltrin is a minister at St. Andrew’s United in Bayfield, Ont.
This column was originally featured in The United Church Observer's March/April issue with the title "A noteworthy Lenten practice." For more of The Observer's award-winning content, subscribe to the magazine today.
Get The Observer’s latest stories on justice, faith and ethics by signing up for our e-newsletter. It only takes a few seconds to join and we’ll deliver award-winning content to your in-box.