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.
March 3, 2022
Editors Note: As your scribe and Jim’s son and editor, I write for Dad, to you, at a hard time. The peace for which many of Dad’s generation gave their lives is under unprecedented assault in the Ukraine. This letter will herald the beginning of our Lenten season. As I write, it is the Sabbath, yet deeply uneasy. I have spoken with Dad about his own memories of the opening of the second World War. They are bemusing, sobering but with much that does not seem relevant. I asked about this moment of time in our history but the failures of telephony, deafness and growing confusion, left me bereft of clarity. So, I searched his recent notes to me – notes written at the beginning of this month – for what he might have to say for us all, now, on the brink of this profound unknowing about the future. Here, from one of Dad’s best ‘friends’, from the fifth century, Augustine of Hippo, comes a message of rest, Sabbath rest, that heralds the greatest hope of all; an eternity with God.
As I search through the wisdom of the ancients and follow the thread of the seasons laid out in my own book of letters – Letters of Faith through the Seasons, Book 1 (see pages 318-319), I am reminded of what it means to know Sabbath rest. Though forced to less physical activity, my own mind is far from inactive, and I am as challenged as ever by the propensity to a busyness of soul that I still seek to be quieted.
In a letter to Januarius, thought to be Bishop of Benevento and later a martyr for his faith, Augustine of Hippo wrote concerning the Sabbath…
Now we are sustained by faith, hope and love, in striving to enter into that eternal rest. We make the transition from this life into that “rest’ by what our Lord Jesus Christ deigned to reveal and consecrate by his passion. This “rest” is not slothful inaction, but a kind of indescribable peace that comes from effortless action. For the end result is that the labours of this life are exchanged for the sheer delight of another way of acting. It is an activity that consists in praising God, without physical effort or anxiety. Moreover, we don’t need to relapse to the old way of “busyness”, for we can enter into a new quietude of soul, where there is no weariness in work, nor restlessness of thought.
The “Sabbath” represented that original way of life, prior to the “Fall”, on the seventh day. Afterwards, it was reinterpreted as “the Return of the Prodigal” now restored from wandering, accepted, and clothed in “the best robe”, the spiritual “First Day of the Week”, which we now call “The Lord’s Day”. When you read Genesis on the days of creation, you realize that originally the seventh day had no evening, for it was now rest without end. But for the sinner, the original everlasting life was forfeited. Now “the first day of the week”, represents a return to the original life, as everlasting rest, not forfeited but restored!...
I know that these letters find you all over the world. Some are close and some far from this conflict that threatens to engulf. I have vivid memories of HMS Edinburgh, at anchor in the Firth of Forth as war was declared in September 1939. A naval officer from the ship visited our home. We had no idea what his presence would come to represent. What lay ahead for us was beyond mere unknowing, it was unimaginable. And yet, the rise of a darkness that was to engulf Europe was also a rise in deepening dependence on the Living God. In the midst of darkness, the Light shines. In the midst of deep unease, Sabbath rest beckons.
I join Augustine in praying for you all…”you are great, Lord, and greatly to be praised. You have created us for your glory, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”.
May each of you know the deep rest of our Living God in these days.
With my blessings and peace for each soul.