Staying in Touch

I recently watched an intriguing documentary I had recorded about a year and a half ago. It was about the life and career of the Irish broadcaster, Gay Byrne, who died in November 2019.

It was called, ‘Dear Gay’ and it featured archived letters that had been sent to RTE, the Irish broadcasting network, during Gay Byrne’s radio show which he presented over many years.

In many ways, it represented a chronicle of the many changes in Irish society over the course of his long and varied career. Gay Byrne began to broadcast on radio and television in the 1960’s  and continued to broadcast into his 8o’s on the classical musical station ‘Lyric fm’. He hosted the longest running chat show on global television for many years the Late Late Show. He had a very unique and empathetic style that meant people felt safe sharing their stories with him and so he covered all sorts of very personal stories.

Over the years, many people felt compelled to write to him and he would share these letters with listeners to the programme. It was a time when the Roman Catholic Church held a hugely influential place within Irish society and also he gave space to those who were questioning and challenging that position. People wrote about topics like the abortion referendum, the divorce referendum, the scandals affecting the churches worldwide. They wrote about problems in their personal lives in their work and relationships.

I was delighted to see two former parishioners of mine interviewed on the documentary, who won a competition when the wife wrote to nominate her husband for the most romantic man of the year award back in 1986! Their eyes filled with tears as they described how wonderful it was to speak to Gay Byrne and share their story with him and the nation at large.

The art of letter writing is something of a dying art. In an era of emails and text messages and digital communication not so many put pen to paper anymore.

Some time ago, when visiting my Mother, I came across a pile of letters in the filing cabinet. They came from me when I had lived in Portugal from 1991-1993. Before we had computers and mobile phones I would write home every week and look forward to my parents weekly letter to me. My father was a very enthusiastic letter writer. When she emigrated to Australia in 1970, he wrote to his sister in Australia every week until he died back in 1993. This was the way people did things back then!

As a schoolboy in a coeducational boarding school in the midlands in the 1980’s, I remember the ingenious methods of sending ‘notes’ to other prep rooms and how romance blossomed for many through these written communications.

As a theological student in the 1990’s, I remember a colleague inviting us to lobby foreign governments to challenge injustice through written postcards and aerogrammes during the late evening office every Thursday.

I guess such campaigns tend to happen through social media these days.

As I think back on the impact of these letters to Gay Byrne and how they got the country talking about some very important and rarely discussed issues, I wonder how we stay in touch with the living God?

The season of Advent we are about to enter invites us to rekindle that relationship. Are we keen to travel to meet Him afresh in our lives? How will we make touch with Him? Do we feel safe telling Him anything, even the deepest things in our hearts, as Irish people did for many decades as they wrote to Gay Byrne? 

Maybe you have become a bit distant from God in recent times? You find it challenging to remember to book in to come to worship and so you drift away from the habit. Maybe you missed a few days Bible reading and, before you know it, you haven’t opened your Bible in 3 weeks. Maybe prayer and small groups were an important part of your spiritual development, but the pandemic hit and you stopped heading out to other people’s homes. You no longer discuss your spiritual life with anyone else and no one holds you accountable.

I wonder is it time to get back in touch with your Heavenly Father? Maybe you could connect into a service online? Maybe you could pray about some of the headlines in the news bulletins you hear today? The world needs your prayers like never before. Maybe you could revisit some of those spiritual shows you used to watch like Songs of Praise or listen to a daily service on the radio or thought for the day?

Don’t be afraid to get in touch, whether it’s by an old fashioned method like writing God a physical letter to tell him the things on your heart, reading your Bible, saying the Lord’s Prayer or by a newer method like listening to a spiritual podcast or tuning into Lectio 365 on your phone.

Looking forward to speaking again soon.

Much love to everyone,

Jono.

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