Letters From a Hospital Bed #40: 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.
August 18, 2022
There is something interminable about a mountain climb…until we reach the top. I think a lot about that, not that I am climbing mountains – though just getting out of bed some mornings feels a bit like it, I imagine – but I am keeping going. As we have been working through some exploration of what it means to be healed of our emotional suffering, I have been reflecting on this deep struggle that many of us experience, simply to keep on going. At my stage, it is easy to have a milestone ahead as I reach for my 100th birthday, later this year, in November. But what then? It’s not that I find the challenge is physical – my doctors tell me that nothing is wrong medically, other than that I keep getting older – but how do I continue emotionally and imaginatively? Will I have enough new ideas to even write letters when the replies so many of you have sent have so fuelled my own imagination and filled my heart with deeper gratitude? Living, for many of us, is just hard work. Like an old car that has to occasionally stop, refuel, add air to tires and water to radiators, so each of us need new emotional energy if we are to express the love of God as a resource for others. Over the years, and ever more so now, I have needed to find a way to be refuelled with love for the journey.
As a younger man, when first I fell in love with my wife Rita, I was refreshed in the romance of our relationship. Even in her years of dementia, we found new ways to be refreshed in each other. In fact, as her capacity lessened, I found my love for her deepened as I needed to hold her identity for her, as her capacity to do so faded and diminished. It was a precious time in our lives together. Similarly, the Lord has found for me ways to be refreshed in His love for me as I learned to take the love of the ancient saints, in their love of the Lord, and let it inspire my own heart. The practical outworking of this very personal discovery was the introduction of Spiritual Theology as a discipline at Regent. Inspired by the Franciscan universities in Spain and the spiritual journey of my own mother as a missionary in Spain, who especially loved St Teresa of Avila as she served as a single woman in a small pueblo of Piedralaves, only 20 miles away from Avila.
I marvel now at how the Lord drew from the roots of my own story, an inspiration for keeping His love alive in me as an adult. As I began to teach the new courses on Spiritual Theology, I was drawn deeper into this realm and grew to find my own loves in the inspiring lives of these early saints. The Franciscan Catholics in colleges of Spain and Italy had already been inspired by a new revival of Franciscan Theology from the sacramentalism of the Dominicans to a more personal theology. The Franciscans have throughout history been reformers, just as the current Pope is today. So today, as I wake to yet another blessed day and wonder from where will come the desire and capacity to enter it fully, tired as my physical body may be, I find myself in this ‘first love’ to which the Lord led me so many decades ago. Since we began these letters, the number of people asking to receive them has nearly tripled and I wonder, what shall I write now? When I ask my son and editor, Chris, that question, he just tells me to write what I am discovering today about the Lord and how He has inspired me today. But to respond to his simple challenge means I have to look, and I have to choose to look for inspiration. I cannot simply sit and wait for something to show up, I have to be looking, actively.
A rich source of daily inspiration are my favourite poets and perhaps chief amoung my favourites is George Herbert, who in turn also inspired the poet Richard Crashaw. While Herbert loved the Lord gently, Crawhaw loved Him with a passion, just as Theresa of Avila had done before. In Crashaw’s eulogies to St Teresa he writes…
“O thou undaunted daughter of desires! By all thy dower of lights and fires; By all the eagle in thee, all the dove; By all thy lives and deaths of love; By all thy large draughts of intellectual day, And by thy thirsts of love more large than they; All thy brim-fill’d bowls of fierce desire, By thy last morning ’s draught of liquid fire; By the full kingdom of that final kiss That seized thy parting soul, and seal’d thee His; By all the Heaven thou hast in Him.”
It has been my gift to live for many years longer than my own mother who, in turn, outlived all expectations for her life. She and I have lived through very different eras and yet we are both inspired by the zealous love of St Teresa for her Lord. Such love fuelled her life. Her inspiring example fuels my own. Knowing the days for me, the Lord has embedded in my own story, through the life of my own mother, the very food I would need to sustain me in my 99th year. This is the gift of Grace for which we must each seek, and which we can all find. What we love, whom we love, defines who we are and whose we are. So, my prayer for you this day, in this season of your life, is that you might find revealed, perhaps in overlooked chapters of your own narrative, the seeds of Grace that now can yield a harvest of hope. I hope you can join with me to prayerfully sing with Laurie Klein,
“I love you Lord, and I lift my voice, to worship you, O my soul, rejoice!
Take joy my King, in what you hear, may it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.”
In friendship Jim