Tuesday, 8 May 2007


Will the day come when we no longer use pens?

Pens tell me a lot about their owners. When they travel in quartets in the top shirt pocket of their owner they tell me something. When they have a piece of star-shaped white ivory on one end they discreetly tell me that their owner has taste. When they are clear and disposable they tell me their owner is fairly easy-going. Pens are, however, no indication of their owner's intelligence- afterall the world's smartest detective, Lieutenant Colombo, didn't even own one (he used pencils usually borrowed from the murderer at the crime scene)!

My late father-in-law was a world-class environmental engineer. His professional drawings were all done by hand rather than computer. For this he used very expensive pencils and ink. He rarely ever wrote notes, yet he determined in the months leading up to the day he was to retire he would buy an executive pen (worth $400 at the time). On my first trip to South East Asia I bought one of these same pens for $8 (which continued to work almost the whole time I was on that trip).

I rarely use a pen these days, yet, I am writing more than I have ever written. I say "rarely" rather than "never" because I deliberately choose to take up a pen and commit some things to ink on paper. I use no particular pen for this discipline, although I do generally prefer blue ink. Despite my growing lack of pen usage, I loathe leaving my home without at least one pen in my pocket. This is strange because I use a Palm PDA to jot things down rather than a pen and paper. Even today when I was pastoring a young leader during a lunch session, rather than do what I've done for years: draw my illustrations on the back of a paper napkin, I simply pulled out my Palm PDA and used that instead. Will we still use pens in the future?

Pen therapy

When I read some of the personal comments that FW Boreham wrote in his many books about his method of writing, I am struck that he used a pen. He hand-wrote the manuscripts for his books. He did this by choice despite the availability of type-writers. He even wrote about the therapeutic nature of his writing. For Boreham, taking up the pen and hand-writing his essays was a spiritual exercise that only a pen could achieve. He encouraged younger ministers to do the same and predicted that they would be spiritually stronger for doing so.

I had intuitively taken up FW Boreham's advice before ever reading it. In keeping a prayer journal by taking up a pen and hand-writing, I must choose my words carefully as I never cross my hand-written words out (and there is no delete or undo buttons on my pen). When I look back over my prayer journals I can see by the neatness of my hand-writing some indication of my state of mind. This is virtually impossible if I am just looking at a screen full of text. Thus, I have grown to agree with my postumous mentor, that the pen is quite therapuetic. It is why I encourage those battling with depression to take up their pen and daily write their prayers to God.

While email has revolutionised communications, and I appreciate the many encouraging emails I get from strangers around the world for something I've said or written, it doesn't really compare to the rare occasions when I get a hand-written note. These types of hand-written notes have arrived in several forms particularly over the past few weeks. Today I received a hand-written card from a young girl. Yesterday I received a hand-written note from someone encouraged by something I had recently preached. A few weeks ago I received a hand-written letter from a federal parliamentarian. It seems that the pen may still be mightier.

Andrew Corbett

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