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.
May 19, 2022
(Editors note: the following letter was derived from a brief conversation that Dad and your scribe enjoyed as he reflected upon our attendance at the Regent Convocation of 2022. As usual, adherence thematically has been achieved while adding a touch of Rita’s ‘humour’ to the otherwise somber moment!)
Last week, on Monday evening, I enjoyed a special moment. Two of my children accompanied me to the Convocation of graduates for Regent College. While I did not stay for it all, I managed the first part and it was a treat. I remember our first, over fifty years ago. There were more faculty than graduating students. I think some people thought we had rather over-extended on gowns and regalia and should have waited until we had a more robust student body. We did the right thing at the time, living into an unknown future to be who we were not yet. While graduations and convocations seem to celebrate the accomplishments of graduands who become graduates by meeting the credentialing standards of the academic institution, I think of them as a celebration of a completely unknowable future, and so, its warm embrace.
It was my pleasure on Monday last, to sit next to my friend Cindy. On this occasion, we were sort of dressed alike. Her shoes were different from the wide felt slippers that are my daily footwear and she sat in a chair and not the wheel-chair that had allowed me to roll in next to her, but our robes were identical. The colours of our gowns matched perfectly though earned more than a half-century apart. Cindy likely bought her gown, as I did, from Shepherd and Woodward, on the High Street, in Oxford, who have been selling academic regalia for over 150 years and from whom Rita and I also bought school uniforms for our children. I remember buying my gown in the late 1940’s. I did not buy the hat. I couldn’t afford it at the time, and have managed well enough without it since. My gown is a lot more frayed and worn than that of my friend and colleague, Cindy, and when I wore it for the first time, I walked across the stage to receive my degree, with an eye on a future that now, having lived just about all of it, I realize was completely unknowable at the time.
Likewise, today, as our students walked on stage as graduands and left the stage as graduates, peering ahead into the total fog of an unknowable future, I am reminded once again of what it means to live by faith and not by sight. While convocation seems centred on lauding the academic accomplishments of the students, that pales in the tacit assumption of just how much future lies ahead for each celebrant. At 99, I have pretty good recollection of virtually the entirety of my future as I could not see it in 1947. Then, the war was over. I had not met Rita. I had not been to Canada. I had not thought of ‘spiritual theology’. I did not know that most of my future literary friends had already been dead for centuries. As for my future, I knew virtually nothing at all, as it turns out. I might have seen my way across the stage to collect my DPhil, but I was blind as a bat, as Rita would have put it. And so it is for us all.
Today, as I write, we face an equally unknowable future and while that seems pretty obvious, a great deal of effort goes into trying to read the ‘tea leaves’, prognosticating and otherwise replacing as much of the unknowable with the reasonably imagined. Pundits abound; most are wrong. For the most part, peering forward doesn’t work. Even when I have tried myself many times to anticipate what lies ahead, I am left with only one certainty and that is the character of faithfulness of our God. So, rather than knowing, we find ourselves simply believing that He that began a good work in us will complete it, though we have no idea how. I am somewhat bemused when I violate the very principal I am here espousing, and consider what may lay ahead for us all. For a lifetime, as a scholar, as a Christian academic, I have pursued the scholarship of the mind. Our industrialized world has leveraged our capacity to reason, to think, to turn ideas into technology, to capitalize on the left brain. Our future, however, will likely be marked by the maturing of our understanding of our emotions and the integration of mind with heart. The future that I once could never see but have now lived will not come again. Were I to walk across that stage again, to step brightly into a new but still unknowable future, I am sure I would have walked a very different path yet found that each step was walked with the same very faithful God, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. I find myself excited for our recent graduates, not because of what they have so diligently learned, important as that may be, but for the future revealing of that which they do not know at all, could never know at this point, but upon whom they can be quite certain. For, like Paul, I know whom I have believed, and am fully persuaded that He is able to keep that which has been committed to His care.
My prayer for you each, this day, is that you graduate into the child-like faith that alone can bring certainty as we each walk into unknown and unknowable days.
Fondly, and with my blessing