Dear Sor Juana,
As the slimmest of shine from the moon waxed in our skies this week to welcome a new month (and for our friends who follow Islam Ramadan) Pope Francis sent a letter, not just to his faithful but one addressed to all the people on the planet, our common home. It is a powerful letter, especially to those of us in developed countries and invoking his namesake he calls us all to action. I am going to leave it other commentators to distil and repackage for public consumption.
The power of receiving and writing letters I have written about previously. I am currently doing a writing challenge where every day I am writing one thousand words and have chosen to write a letter each day for the month of June to someone who has provided me with a topic. The experience of writing to someone means I factor in what I know about that person and what might I be able to gift to them in my words.
As you wrote, “one can perfectly well philosophize while cooking supper”. The ordinary everyday task of combining making a meal and making meaning happens in kitchens all over the world – and I have certainly done so in my own – if only talking to the pots and pans. The deep conversations bringing tenor, building compassion and opening us to new ideas make the space to be held between us.
However there is something In writing a letter that creates an intimate platform to hold the space for between the reader and the writer and offers potential for intimacy to build or deepen a relationship. There is also the commitment to put yourself on the line when you write both in the personal and public domains and the deep betrayal that occurs when those words get into the wrong hands or to a wider unintended audience. The betrayal and anger you felt when one of your private letters was shared led to one of your greatest pieces. Sharing yourself in words has a vulnerability and potential for humiliation as I expressed in a letter to my friend Christine. And when those words are acclaimed and command attention with the power of popularity or office of the writer words can hold a powerful charge when committed to publication.
Pope Francis could have chosen a sermon, a TV or radio interview, a you tube clip, but he went with a letter. This letter ends with two prayers, one in particular calling upon all believers to be the light to those who are in the dark about how to protect our sister, Mother Earth, to hear her cries and the cries of the poor. He urges us to prepare for better times ahead to midwife and partner for growing beauty, love, justice and peace. Now in print, these words can be unheard or undone and the personal invitation is offered for us to take up and I may well write a letter back to him thanking him for his correspondence and with a prayer of my own for him and for all of us who use the pen and digital platforms for transformative action for our selves and others.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.
Blessed be they who write letters, may their letters be received, wrapped in vulnerability and courage.
Blessed are they who read letters, may their hearts be open to the intimacy of the letter and find a word for their pilgrimage.