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Letters From a Hospital Bed #26: 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.

An Exploration of the Strange Experience of Being Still…Well, More Still Than Normal!

May 12, 2022

Dear Friends;

In my letter of last week, I introduced the notion of Easter not just as a noun that referred to an event, but also as a verb by which we can ‘be eastered’, to yield ourselves to the remarkable transformation brought about by the resurrection of Christ. It seems that we are always facing change and transition and so look for anything of permanence that might hold fast while all about is changed. Every generation faces disturbing transitions.

In recent weeks I had the pleasure of living vicariously through trips that two of my children have made to the land of my childhood, Scotland, and in particular, the city of Edinburgh. About two centuries ago, the city of Edinburgh was in great turbulence as it emerged from the Reformation with its ‘noble martyrs’ to the Scottish Enlightenment. In the then farm fields below the old city on its hill, a ‘New Town’ was emerging. Two worlds, “Old Town” and “New Town”, moving in parallel, yet so different one from another. It was a time of vibrant experimentation in philosophy, in architecture, in medicine, in maritime exploration – the findings of Captain Cook were heralding a whole new world. Very little that the grand city of Edinburgh knew was stable. Experiments in faith abounded and the dour and rational Scots were challenged to trust God even with their emotions.

Two centuries later and somehow nothing has changed. As the post-WWII geopolitical peace crumbles in Ukraine and the Far East; as inflationary forces stifle our debt-fueled growth; as the authority of medicine is both embraced and challenged for global human health; as climate change threatens an already fragile food supply.; as post-pandemic mental health issues rattle the composure of nearly all of us and tear at the fabric of already vulnerable families. None of us is immune from the growing sense that all our foundations are rattling, if not in tectonic flux. Where on earth is there any ‘solid ground’ for our too fragile selves?

Two centuries ago, in the midst of an epochal change in my old home-town of Edinburgh, Robert Smith published his first version of Sacred Music, a compilation of hymns appropriate for his charge as precentor and choirmaster of St George’s, as he selected the hymns that his congregation needed. Amongst his choices was a hymn written as a paraphrase of Psalm 34 over a century previously, by Nicholas Brady and Nahum Tate in their New Version of the Psalms (1698). Their desire is mine also. To bring afresh the ancient texts of the Psalms to speak to us in a world unimagined by previous generations. Now, over three centuries later, this evergreen poem, which speaks Psalm 34, a psalm of David spoken out of a fear that led to his feigned madness before Abimelech, captures the essence of our times of upheaval and frames my response to the random chaos that seems to threaten our familiar order.

Through all the changing scenes of life, in trouble and in joy, the praises of my God shall still my heart and tongue employ.

O magnify the Lord with me, with me exalt his name; when in distress, to him I called he to my rescue came.

The hosts of God encamp around the dwellings of the just; his saving help he gives to all who in his mercy trust.

O taste his goodness, prove his love; experience will decide how blessed they are, and only they, who in his truth confide.

Fear him, you saints, and you will then have nothing else to fear; his service shall be your delight, your needs shall be his care.

To Father, Son and Spirit, praise! To God whom we adore be worship, glory, power and love, both now and evermore!

To be ‘eastered’ is to yield to the incomprehensible mastery of all circumstances by a resurrected Christ. It is to descend into what may seem like madness to those around you. It is to taste his goodness, prove his love, and confide in his truth. A truth that has stood for millennia and will surely weather these uncertain days. May you each be so eastered as we exalt his name together.

With my blessings,


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Scott Burnett
Scott Burnett
May 12, 2022

Thank you Jim for encouraging me in the journey from my head to my heart, which is still a journey in progress. I long to experience more of Christ's resurrection power in my life and to be able to enter into the lives of others more deeply as a result. You once said that true freedom is the freedom to transcend ourselves. I have tasted of that freedom over the years and long for more of it. owe much of the loosing of my self made chains, (though as one person told you once, "I can still hear them clanking :) to your influence and encouragement over the 30 years we have journeyed together. I do want to yield m…


Dear Jim,

Indeed, the high hope of the evergreen journey and being eastered does spring eternal, the reflected upon hymn a beauty that offers much beyond the low lying and dark clouds of the tragic. I worked for Amnesty International for 15 years and, alas, many was the tragic end of the best, most courageous and just--those who lived through much torture, solitary confinement and yet sadder experiences would find it almost impossible to identify with the hymn, evergreening and eastering. How do we live with, at times, the seeming absence, eclipse and silence of God not only in the chaos of our ethos, the tragic reality in Ukraine (and elsewhere) and the thousands whose basic human rights have been…

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