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.
July 1, 2022
(Editors Note: This letter and the few that may follow – though we are never sure where these journeys will take us – derive from notes and some conversations over the past few weeks, on the subject of ‘salvation’. As always, your scribe seeks to faithfully report, like the embedded journalist, from the frontier of the ever-roving mind of our Dad and your friend. Restless, immensely curious, thematically persistent, Dad declares himself to be a very joyful man. To closely follow his trail, however, requires both intellectual and interpretive agility that taxes lesser mortals who occasionally miss publication deadlines. The tardy arrival of this week’s missive is a function of conflicting priorities in the editorial department and not, he would most earnestly have you know, any suggestion that our most blessed 99-year-old should be lagging in vigour!)
In the weekend of celebration of Canada Day in the north and Independence Day in the south, all of North America is somehow in celebration of ‘freedom’ and the declared identity of country and flag and all that those symbols are fashioned to represent in our collective imaginations. The very word ‘freedom’ leads us to focus on that from which freedom has been granted, and perhaps achieved, though many skeptics have plenty of grounds for rightful questions. Indeed, the ‘culture wars’ of the US, the recent ‘celebrations’ in Hong Kong, war in Europe, inflation fears, market crashes, recessionary threats, post- (or is it inter-?) pandemic woes might all make us wonder just how much ‘freedom’ is actually being realized, even in the ‘free’ world. Sensibly, perhaps, the celebrations this year, somehow seem more tepid, more aspirational than realized, more obligatory than existential.
For many of us, for most of our lives in the journey of faith, we have viewed and experienced our ‘salvation’ through a judicial lens. That, through Christ, the law has been satisfied and that we are thus deemed not guilty. Indeed, the law only has two possible states for the accused, guilty or not-guilty. I’m reminded of the cup of water that can only be either empty or not-empty. Or the Hippocratic mantra of western medicine that there can be harm or ‘no harm’. Even the mighty Google figured out a few years ago that their aspiration of “Don’t be evil” was woefully inadequate and that perhaps doing some good was required! But as Christians, we tend still to get stuck in this sense that we have been ‘saved from’ and forget to move on and realize that we have also been ‘saved to’. I have learned myself of late that it is not enough for me to have no medical reason to die, and so be ‘saved’ from the death I thought was both imminent and welcome, but I also have to fully embrace being alive. To be ‘not dead’, only gets me half-way. To be ‘not-guilty’ does not make me free. To be ‘not empty’ does not mean my cup runneth over. If we see our salvation only in judicial terms, we are still only half alive, at best, simply not-dead!
As we view our many interactions with Covid we are finding that there are a growing number of people who, though no longer sick, are hardly well. Long-covid is not just a disease of our bodies. Many of us are suffering from a spiritual long-covid which permanently locks us in a wearying place, where our salvation has set us free from guilt, but our emotions remain permanently scarred and impeded in their motions, such that we are not fully alive. My dear Rita long suffered from a physical restriction in her joints from arthritis. She could still move, but hardly with fluid motion and without pain. I wonder how many of us find our emotional joints equally scarred and stiffened to the point of immobility. The law pronounces us “not guilty”, yet it cannot infuse us with life.
Just recently, I was stunned to discover that a medical procedure I was certain my body had required, was just an illusion of my mind. It took my doctor, showing me that I had no requisite scar, before I would believe that I was indeed mistaken in my own diagnosis of my presumed ailment. So sure was I of my condition that I experienced symptoms that I later learned were simply not possible. This is the gift for us of the psalmist who, like my kind physician, helps us to see that where we thought we were wounded, and have lived out of that wounding perhaps for decades, we are far from merely ‘not-dead’, but that our emotions can be made alive and our beings full of health.
In the next few weeks, this is the path I hope we can explore together, to embrace a salvation that heals our emotions to Life and to its abundance. The Great Physician comes to us through the psalms and through the voices of the ancients who knew no limits of mere judicial salvation, such that Christ heals our emotions and enables us to embrace a being alive that is so far beyond ‘not-guilty’ that it is real freedom. May, today, you each see that ‘quickening ray’ that promises that soon, the emotional dungeons in which we so often imprison ourselves can be filled with light, and with chains fallen off, we can each, with the hymnist, walk into real freedom.