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.
September 1, 2022
As I have been reflecting on the wonder of Christ as our healer, I’m reminded of how resistant God’s people were to His promises. Moses, whom God used to deliver Israel out of Egypt, was powerless to heal the emotional wounds of the Israelites. The prophets, minor and mighty, were equally unsuccessful. I’m reminded of the children’s joke – “how many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? Just one, but it really has to want to be changed!” Yet even desire does not seem to be enough as we see the psalmist David who cried out in deep distress to express that he found no experience of the Divine Physician. Indeed, all that David was experiencing emotionally was a deep loneliness, that God has hidden His face from him, was ignoring him, had forsaken him. David felt just ‘skin and bones…like a desert owl and when awake, like a bird alone on a roof’. As one who had come to the ending of his days that had become but an ‘evening shadow’, where I ‘wither away as grass’ (Psalm 102:1-11). Like so many of our desperate patients in our hospitals at the height of the pandemic, on stretchers, in hallways, alone, unattended, some dying alone simply for lack of capacity. In many ways, this was the state of Israel under the law; there was simply no way for the deep healing required. A brand new covenant was required.
So many of us live like the psalmist, convinced we have been abandoned by God, left alone in the crowded but lonely corridors of our lives, in arid relationships, in tepid careers, in broken families. Like the bleaching whale bones that sometimes wash up on the beach outside my window, that cling to a form of life that the heat of the sun has leached away. Even the promise of the dried bones in the desert to the prophet Ezekiel could not prolong the restoration of God’s people. It needed a new covenant, in the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus his beloved son, could heal. Christ indeed, is the universal healer, the eternal physician. As His followers, we often forget that He told us why He came. Standing in the Temple in Nazareth, amidst all the adults who knew him as a boy and a carpenter’s son, He declares to us:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
The very name Jesus (Yeshua) means ’the Lord who saves’, that translated from the Greek means ’the lord who delivers', or ‘saves life’, or 'heals’ from death. Luke, himself a physician, records the text above, quoted when Jesus visited his childhood community at Nazareth, where he commenced his public ministry. What follows in Christ’s life is a cavalcade of healings: a demon possessed man is exorcised, a woman with high fever is healed, and after a long day healing, no doubt now very weary, “at sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands upon them, he healed them all.” With scarcely any sleep, Jesus was up early, for “at day-break Jesus went out to a solitary place, to have a short sleep. No doubt, the people were looking for him, and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them” (Luke 4: 36-43). Jesus had grown up in the area. It was there that - born of a virgin - he was himself free of ancestral ’sin’ or ‘disease’. Yet in being truly human, he shared in the cultural diseases then common. The early fathers were profoundly in worship that the creator of the universe, was now identified with his creature man in all their afflictions. Now, then, Jesus shared empathy with the sick, as he too, experienced our bodily sicknesses. The orthodox church especially, by their rites and ceremonies, have reflected mystically, on how Christ will present all his redeemed, to his father in heaven, “blameless, body, soul, and spirit, before the coming of our lord”. The cause of sin was the disobedience of our first parents, and the healing of our souls is now the obedience of Jesus to his heavenly father, so deeply expressed in John’s gospel - for "if the Son shall make you free, you are free indeed” (John 8:36). Yet, we choose so often the desert, to wander, hungry.
Over the years, I have learned one place, at least, where I can enter under the touch of the Great Healer and it requires that I do nothing at all, I simply need to go to sleep. When I sleep, the keyboard must stop, my eyes cannot read, my mouth cannot speak, my thoughts become silent. Something in me stops and enters a place of complete dependence. Here, in the hospital, there are some who struggle with inviting sleep. Like butterflies that never settle, activity camouflages a deep sadness that resists sleep. Yet that is where we find deep healing, and every day I practice a desire to know the healing touch of the Great Physician and, with the hymn writer to pray…
Dear Lord and father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways: reclothe us in our rightful mind; in purer lives thy service find, in deeper reverence, praise. In simple trust like theirs who heard beside the Syrian sea the gracious calling of the Lord, let us, like them, without a word, rise up and follow thee. O sabbath rest, by Galilee! O calm of hills above, where Jesus knelt to share with thee the silence of eternity, interpreted by love! Drop thy still dews of quietness , till all our strivings cease; take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of thy peace. Breathe through the heats of our desire thy coolness and thy balm; let sense be dumb, let flesh retire, speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire, O still small voice of calm.
May it be so, this day, for each of you.