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.
December 1, 2021
My dear friends;
Just recently, while enjoying white bean soup for my lunch, I was reminded of taking my young family to the south of Italy. This region is remarkably stony with little soil and where the local diet often includes a white bean soup. Where grown locally, the bean plants trail over the low stone walls of the stone houses – referred to as ‘trullo’. As a young family, we enjoyed a few days spent living in a ‘trullo’ where, in the hot climate, the house is cool by day and by night. As a geographer, I had read about the origin of this particular white bean soup at the Centre for the Study of Domesticated plants, in Paris. This soup is one of the oldest recipes of its kind in the world and had been the result, in Neolithic times, of the first use of fire in this ancient region, which enabled Neolithic man to first shape bowls from clay and then boil this particular soup. As I recounted this memory to my nurse while eating my lunch, she wondered whether I was simply making this up. No, I replied, its all quite true. “Oh my goodness, she said, I can no longer call you just “Jim”, I must call you professor”. I protested and assured her that she must continue to call me Jim for I am still a human being, just as she is. Perhaps, next time you are wandering the grocery aisles in search of something that might rescue you from the trivialities of mere post-modernity, you might reach for the white bean soup and join the entire panoply of Western Civilization in the celebration of this ancient meal!
On a recent morning, I was listening to my son and realizing that we can be very privileged to be bound in bed, having all the time in the world, to listen to one’s children, express their intimate experiences of the Lord, in contrast to when you are running about, all very busy but no time to really hear them. The story that Christopher was telling me was a unique story about himself, a rare experience of knowing God’s joy in him. The story is too private to share, but we had, also from the hospital bed, a very moving experience together when, lying on the horizonal, I could look straight into his eyes and I heard him say, “I have seen you see me, notice me, not writing and reading as always, but because you are in bed, you are noticing me.” These are precious moments in my day. I wonder how you each might find the space to look your loved ones in the eye and know them and be known by them.
Editors Note: It was with some bemusement that I found Dad on a recent morning, up, dressed, sitting alert in his chair, waiting for me to arrive. “Get the machine” (his laptop) he asked, “I have a story”. I jumped to it, opened his laptop and sat awaiting his narrative. It is not every morning, with only one flat white coffee between deep sleep and alert with a keyboard, that I find myself immediately around a Neolithic campfire in southern Italy, complete with bean vines growing over stone walls, newly fired clay pots to boil a primitive soup, interspersed with memories of camping holidays that I was supposed to remember from the age of 4 or 5. All this inspired by Dad’s recent consumption of his lunch the day before. I tried hard to draw a line between the “trullo” (look it up, I had to!), Neolithic man, bean soup and deep spiritual enlightenment for his friends around the world. Dad was certain this had great significance for us; well for him, at any rate. I confess to find the thread just a tad hard to follow but I have learned not to question the mysterious ways of God, including the occasionally unfathomable labyrinth of our father’s mind. Perhaps, white bean soup (either modern or ancient) will connect for you in ways his more Philistine kids might have missed, but we seek to be faithful in retelling, not always successful in interpretation!