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 10, 2022
For so much of my life I have been able to set the agenda for my days, to define the books I would read, lectures I would give, courses I would teach, students I would meet, projects that would consume me and timing that I would follow, as I was so inclined. To be sure, there were numerous obstacles, yet I recognize that the agenda was mine to set. It has taken running into the brick wall of aging and losing some faculties that render me dependent upon other people’s timing to slow me down enough to ask, “what should I do next?” It is a question I have called my son Chris to ask on more than a few occasions, and I think we both find it disorienting to be in that place together. In it all, I have been helped by my own book of letters, not only because the content is helpful, but because it follows the church calendar. God has given us seasons of not only weather, but for our spirits. And now, we are in Lent.
The Lenten season offers us six Sundays and each has a focus, or an invitation to reflection. I think we might be wiser to pay attention. Some years ago, I’m not sure I can remember just how many, I had been invited to speak at a Lenten conference, on the subject “the celebration of Ash Wednesday”. As I rose to my feet, and unaware of the Anglican tradition of the community I was to address, I was given a charcoal cross on my forehead before speaking. As the son of an itinerant Brethren preacher, the “imposition of ashes”, administered just before embarking on a message, was an interruption that I found both unusual and, upon reflection, prescient of the kinds of interruptions that would better prepare me for this stage of life. As we embark on even the best intentions, in our full stride, we need sometimes sharp reminders that our every breath comes at a huge cost, the cost of Christ’s death for us.
I was fortunate in my first encounter with the sign of ashes, a sign I carried throughout my talk, that I was to speak about the Armenian Church, a church that has survived even genocide at the hands of the Turks. In their tradition, Lent is the primary season of fasting among the 160 days of fasting assigned in their calendar. This time of reflection and of cleansing, of bodies and souls, prepares us to receive the gifts of Easter. This letter to you comes between the first and second Sundays of Lent. The first Sunday, now past, is our doorway into the Lenten season. In just a few days, we will meet the second Sunday that marks the expulsion of humanity from paradise and the loss of our happiness due to our disobedience. Later Sundays focus us elsewhere.
So, today, with limited capacity to set my own agenda and to find myself marked ‘figuratively’, at least by imposed ashes, I am between two thresholds, my entry to Lent and my expulsion from a paradise I rejected through disobedience. The first graciously offered by consequence of the second. I am welcomed to the Gift of Grace, in spite of my choice otherwise, but I must enter through this Lenten gate not on my terms, but with purified feelings, renewed faith, welcoming Him who by His death defeated death and granted life to us by His resurrection. This is the gift of this season. It stops me in my tracks. Insists on ashes for my face, so that I might enter so much more fully into the miracle of my salvation, in Christ. That He should grant me another such season, a ninety-ninth, is a cause of deep gratitude.
For you each I pray, “Grant, O Lord, to your faithful people – these dear friends of mine – that they enter the holy solemnities of this fast with true reverence and continue the same with steadfast devotion”.
Welcome to your Lenten season!