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Letters Mingle Souls

“Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls. For, thus friends absent speak.”  —John Donne 

As part of my doctoral thesis project at Northern Seminary I am exploring the role of letter writing in pastoral care and spiritual formation. In the ancient world, letter writing was a preeminent way pastors engaged personally with those under their spiritual care—instructing and encouraging them by way of the pen.

Central to my thesis is the conviction that pastors today need to find more personal and relational ways to engage their congregants between Sundays and beyond the weekly sermon. I believe recovering the ancient art of letter writing can be a vehicle for more personalized spiritual instruction in an age of increasingly impersonal digital communication (texting, quick emails, youtube sermons, etc.).

In order to test my thesis, I will begin writing “pastoral letters” to a sample group of people as a regular part of my weekly pastoral activities and solicit their feedback at the end of trial period. For inspiration, I have been reading spiritual letters for the past year and wanted to share a few from one such writer named Francois Fenelon, a French Roman Catholic archbishop, theologian, poet and writer who lived 1651-1715. (Thanks to Pastor David Brown for introducing me to Fenelon.) Enjoy!

LETTER V. Peace lies in simplicity and obedience.

Cultivate peace; be deaf to your too prolific imagination; its great activity not only injures the health of your body, but introduces aridity into your soul. You consume yourself to no purpose; peace and interior sweetness are destroyed by your restlessness. Think you God can speak in those soft and tender accents that melt the soul, in the midst of such a tumult as you excite by your incessant hurry of thought? Be quiet, and He will soon be heard. Indulge but a single scruple; to be scrupulously obedient.

You ask for consolation; but you do not perceive that you have been led to the brink of the fountain, and refuse to drink. Peace and consolation are only to be found in simple obedience. Be faithful in obeying without reference to your scruples, and you will soon find that the rivers of living water will flow according to the promise. You will receive according to the measure of your faith; much, if you believe much; nothing, if you believe nothing and continue to give ear to your empty imaginations.

You dishonor true love by the supposition that it is anxious about such trifles as continually occupy your attention; it goes straight to God in pure simplicity. Satan is transformed into an angel of light; he assumes the beautiful form of a scrupulous love and a tender conscience; but you should know by experience the trouble and danger into which he will lead you by vehement scruples. Everything depends upon your faithfulness in repelling his first advances.

If you become ingenuous and simple in your desires, I think you will have been more pleasing to God than if you had suffered a hundred martyrdoms. Turn all your anxieties toward your delay in offering a sacrifice so right in the sight of God. Can true love hesitate when it is required to please its well-beloved?

Jeremy Berg is the founding pastor of MainStreet Covenant Church in Mound, Minnesota, and Professor of Theology at Solid Rock Discipleship School. Jeremy is completing his doctorate in New Testament Context under Dr. Scot McKnight at Northern Seminary in Chicago. He holds a M.A. in Theological Studies from Bethel Seminary (2005) and B.A. from Bethel University (2002). He and his wife, Kjerstin, keep busy chasing around three kids, Peter, Isaak and Abigail.

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