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.
June 9, 2022
In a recent conversation with my son Chris, I told him it was time for us to write about singing a ‘a new song’. Since he is no longer quite so predisposed to simply take what I say at face value, he probed my suggestion with “why”? and “why now”? Pressing his point he asked, “Dad, why is it so important that we now sing a new song. More to the point, why do you want to sing a ‘new song’?” And so I explained to him that for generations, even millennia, pandemic periods of history have been followed by periods of great creative flourishing, often made possible by the disruption of the pandemic. The grain trade in Old Testament times brought plague about which the psalmist writes in Psalm 91. The deep discouragement of Psalm 88 is followed by the affirmation of Psalm 91 and then the whole psalter lifts its head through the psalms of ascent and the final doxology. The Renaissance followed the egalitarian destruction of the European plague. The Spanish Flu gave rise to massive changes in public health. A local grocer reports a kinder and gentler and less frenetic public as the Covid restrictions have eased. So, I told Chris, we need to write about ‘a new song’ because I am excited to see what flourishing will follow this darkness that we have all known.
In many ways, the pandemic has exposed each of us to a deeper darkness than we are accustomed to know. We each know something about depression. For some, it is a deep and abiding and frightening darkness that seems at times to crush our spirits, and silence our capacity to even desire, let alone realize anything else. For others, and I know this reality better for myself, a brooding malaise hangs over days and sometimes weeks. Here in our hospital, some of my new ‘neighbours’ have found their lives so darkened by the actions of others, that they seem no longer to be honest with themselves in their despair, let alone the rest of us. I know for myself that there is a habit to such acedia against which I must guard my own spirit. Furthermore, as I reflect on my own life, some most creative periods have arisen from deep discouragement and so now, in this post-pandemic confusion in which we all live, with war and inflation dominating our public discourse, I choose to sing a new song. Psalm 33 gives words to my cry…
Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. 2 Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. 3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.
4 For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. 5 The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.
20 We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. 21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. 22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.
Like the fresh manna that the Lord provided to His people as they navigated the wilderness, so it is to sing a new song. As the manna was collected each day, so we sing a new song each day. After the darkness we expect a new flourishing. Along with my favourite hymn writer Isaac Watts (1674-1748)…
I sing the mighty power of God that made the mountains rise
That spread the flowing seas abroad and built the lofty skies
I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day;
The moon that shines bright at his command and all the stars obey.
There is not a plant or flower below but makes your glories known;
And clouds arise, tempests blow, by order from your throne.
While all that borrows life form you is ever in your care,
And everywhere that I may be, God you are present there.
And so my prayer for each of us is…
Dear Lord, as Elijah was looking up to heaven, he was uplifted by a chariot of fire, so may I always keep looking up towards heaven. Even when my eyes are cast down, protect me from slipping into the dark mire of depression by putting a new song in my heart, giving me even the desire and strength to sing. Lord, let me so trust you that I sing that new song, that I anticipate your goodness, that I expect your enjoyment of even me and so, bring me joy that can spill out for others, even when they are cast down and their eyes are not lifted up. Amen