Letters From a Hospital Bed #10: Reflections From a 99 Year Old
Letters from a Hospital Bed is a series of reflections by Jim Houston, now entering his 100th year, in which Jim seeks to capture and reflect new insights of his ever-discoverable God, revealed through his own hospitalization, for the encouragement of all care givers.
January 20, 2022 Dear Friends; As in so many other places, we have been back in ‘lock down’ again with the Omicron variant. Here, where I live, visitors have been severely restricted. Even my own children have been unable to visit, so I have been spending even more time alone. These kinds of times challenge my sense of ‘proximity’ and what it means for me to be with someone, even when they are not physically present. When my wife Rita died and I was no longer able to be with her, in one sense, I realized that she was now in the presence of the Lord. Now, when I am ‘alone’, I too sense the Lord's close presence and in a whole new way, Rita and I are more together. The closer I stay with the Lord, the closer Rita seems to me, for the Lord’s presence binds us both closer to Him and I so I miss her less. Time and again, restraint and a sense of loss, open up new vistas of discovery. As I am less able to pursue the things I once did as a professional adult, I hear Christ’s invocation, more imperative, that I become like a little child. Jesus insists to Nicodemus, “you must be born again”, not once, but again and again, in every season, in every day. Nowadays, we tend to think that to be a ‘serious Christian’, we need to hear serious theologians preach every Sunday morning or attend serious teaching on the Apostles of the New Testament, or by exegeting the four Gospels. But the early Church, in educating their own children in home churches, as Jerome, Basil and other early Fathers attest, saw Jesus at the various stages of His own life, first as a child, then later as a mature man, teaching them. Indeed, Jesus had to teach His own earthly Mother, WHO HE WAS, while she wonderfully nurtured and fed Him. In the upside-down Kingdom of God, little children do the teaching. Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-1167), a pupil of Bernard of Clairvaux, reflects on the child Jesus, when his parents were on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, they lose sight of their young Jesus. I am brought to the theme of Matthew 28; all the disciples of Jesus must become as little children to become His disciples. Hans Urs Von Balthasar has more recently taught us in his wonderful small book, “Unless You Become like this child”. This vital insight, that I and all of us need, is exemplified by Jesus the Child, as well by Him as the Son of God. As Matthew 9:3 reports, “Then He, (that is, Jesus) took a child, placed him in the midst of the crowd, as a prototype, answering Nicodemus’ question, “How shall a man be born again when he is old? (John 3:16). We have to be 'born again'. It all begins with love - the love of God for the Son, as the love of parents for each other, that then produces the child. This is what it is to become a disciple of Jesus, to be immersed in Love, like a child. I have been reflecting on the traits of this ‘childhood’. ADORATION. The parents adore their child, while the child reciprocates with adoration, as occurs with every birth, where the new-born’s visual focal length is 16 inches, so as to best look into the eyes of a mother, as the eyes of a mother look to her child, in mutual recognition. So, Jesus, with childlike amazement looks up to His Heavenly Father, saying “The Father is greater than I"! (Jn. 14:2) And so in the Father, Christ can have infinite trust GRATITUDE. Parents often, as soon as a child can speak, teach them to “say thank you”. So, Matthew 7:7 reminds us, “even as you ask you can already give thanks”. (Mk. 11:24) MYSTERY. For who could argue with God’s Word? A child has no idea where its food comes from. We can never stop accepting it gratefully. TIME. As we grow up, we are given time to become who we are. As the book of Ecclesiastes outlines. We can never stop growing as a Christian. Hampered as we all might be these days in our distracting ‘adult’ pursuits, perhaps God is inviting us to be more ‘child-like’ and so let us join with Charles Wesley and affirm:
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child; Pity my simplicity, Suffer me to come to Thee.
With my blessings on your ‘child-like’ hearts,