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.
Admin note: After 2 1/2 months Jim is finally able to receive visitors again. We are delighted for this change as it brings Dad much joy and vitality to meet with different friends.
March 24, 2022
Editors Note: On occasion, the notes from Dad that inspire your scribe in editing these letters, contain threads that are hard for lesser mortals to fathom. Today, oranges, mystics, introspection and scurvy conspire to make the search for exegetical connections rather hard to fathom. I trust that I have indeed found the golden thread to link them all and grasp coherence for us all from the sometimes mysterious wisdom of a sage!
Soon, we will encounter the fourth Sunday in Lent which is dedicated to the encounter of Jesus with the rich young ruler whom he sent away to reflect on the real state of his eager heart. His challenge, from Jesus, was to find renewal in his life through the abandonment of the very competence by which he thought he was being successful. The reality is we cannot ‘fix’ ourselves but must first be emptied of that upon which we have depended for our sense of self.
As a young boy, I grew up in Spain as the son of missionary parents. My mother, who served near the small town of Avila before I was born, was there introduced to its famous saint, Theresa, and my mother grew to love her writings. My father, meanwhile, introduced me to a peer and perhaps inspiration for Theresa, John of Avila. John had studied law at Salamanca and biblical studies at the new biblical institute of Alcala and planned to serve as missionary in Mexico. Ill health forced him to live a more restricted life, devoted to letter writing.
Were it not for scurvy on British merchant ships, I may never have met this remarkable Franciscan through his writings, and in particular, his letter to a young lady about the dangers of excessive introspection. English ships gathered oranges from Spain to offset the risks of scurvy across the navy, and these English ships held and travelled to eager readers, which led to the translation of John of Avila’s letters into English. Thus, they came to my father’s hands and thence to me. On the subject of introspection and action – the challenging standard that Jesus for the rich young ruler – John of Avila wrote to his friend…
“How long will you continue in your minute self-examinations? It is like raking up a dust heap from which nothing can come but rubbish and unpleasantness. Feel sure that it is not for your own merits, but for those of Christ crucified, that you are loved and made whole. Do not give way to such discouragement about your faults. It would be far better to be courageous and strong-hearted and to meditate on the benefits that you have received through Jesus Christ in the past and possess now…As I have often repeated, God loves you as you are…what more have you to wish for? In heaven, there is one to whom you appear all fair for He looks at you through the apertures of the wounds that he received for you. By these he gives you grace and supplies what is lacking in you, healing you and making you lovely. Be at peace!”
Like the young ruler in the encounter with Jesus, John of Avila found himself unable to ‘do’ enough to warrant his own sense of merit. John was stuck in bed when he longed to be a missionary in Mexico. The young man who encountered Jesus had already done all he could think of, yet sensed it was still not enough. And John, in his letter, invites his friend to embrace her adequacy in Christ, not her inadequacy in her own eyes. In a way, I now understand the perspective of John of Avila, that it is through an emptied self, a so constrained self, that Christ is able to work more fully. These letters to you, my friends, are part of that journey for me. May you each, in your own hearts, respond with gratitude for the high place you hold in God’s heart, and set aside your inability to make your own self, righteous.
My prayer for you is “may God’s mercy shelter you beneath His everlasting love and for this, I bid you hope”.
Please pray also for me, the same, and to the same Lord, who loves us all.