Letters From a Hospital Bed #43: 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.
September 8, 2022
(Editors Note: Dad has been rather prolific of late, as if he is somehow getting younger every day! And your faithful scribe is occasionally challenged to stay up with the emerging themes which tend to emanate as beckoning an epic voyage on some discovery, only to be displaced, a few days later, by a new and equally inter-galactic intellectual odyssey. Readers of the Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Graham, will recall the moment when Toad’s zeal for the caravan, is quite remarkably replaced for an equal zeal for the motor car and all thought of the caravan seems quite so very ‘yesterday’. Imagine trying to craft transportation strategy for Toad! Considerable agility is required. Yet, amidst the recent flurry of emails on our next subject – to be ‘heavenly minded’ – I found this gem, in its usual un-polished state. Close by my home, our local university is gearing up and grandkids are off to schools and much that is new is starting. Amidst all this newness, this prayerful anchor in ancient words, full of wisdom for today, seems timely.)
Some ten or more years ago, I was led by the Lord, to spend half the year on daily study and meditation on the Lord’s Prayer. In my prayer time this morning, I felt urged to write my next letter on this theme. Rather like singing the national anthem of our country, the Lord’s Prayer is so familiar to us, that paradoxically, it has become so unfamiliar to us as Christians. The prayer is reported in both Matthew 6:9-15 and Luke 11:1-4, with slight variants.
“Our Father in heaven”
God has spoken to us twice, firstly, through the reality of the earthly world and the cosmos – “the heavens declare…” - and secondly, through the prayer of his incarnate beloved son, who has in His unfathomable self-emptying, made it possible for us to pray this prayer, as our mediator between God and mankind. I wonder sometimes, what He makes of our babble in church when He has given us words to speak to Him. Sometimes, we use any other words but those He has given us to use. Rather, we need the heart of Hannah in her prayer:
“There is no one holy like the lord: there is no one beside you; there is no rock like our God. Do not keep talking so proudly, or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the Lord is a god who knows, and by him his deeds are known.” (1 Samuel 2: 2-3) The early fathers recognized that the Lord’s Prayer is far more than an expression of human earthly need, for it is expressed to become Christ-like, instead of remaining like Adam, still rebellious against God. It is rather like becoming like Adam and Eve in the garden before their rebellious lapse into sin. It is like Jacob’s ladder into heaven. It is like seeking to be restored to that pre-lapsed state when Adam and Eve communed with God in the garden. “Hallowed be your name”
God gave man the power to ’name the animals’, but as God’s creatures, we dare not name God. All language then about God can only be metaphorical. But by God’s grace he gave us the privilege as the ‘imago Dei’, to commune with Him as His people. Because of Christ’s self-emptying – to become as a little child - we can now name ‘Jesus’, but only as a little child can do. The over-familiarity we sometimes practice in our speech is sheer blasphemy. Matthew picks this up in his gospel, in chapter 18, in declaring that as his disciples we have become as little children, for such is the kingdom of heaven. For holy indeed, is His name, for by His name we can be ‘born-again’, that is to have a transformed mind-set, to be completely other than we were. Such power in His name!
“Your kingdom come”
Like Hannah, we now enter the school of humility and obedience, to the sovereign will of God. We are learning what the apostle Paul taught his son in the faith, Timothy, “for there is one God and one mediator between God and man,”. (1 Tim. 2:5). It is not Paul, who is the great theologian, it is Jesus Christ who is 'the unique theologian’, because He exemplified by His life, passion, resurrection, what Christian theology is all about. It is just ‘doctrine’ in an abstract way, but lived, by inviting Christ’s life to be expressed in us, all comes alive!
“Your will be done”
Uniquely, it was Jesus who in the Garden of Gethsemane, in his deep agony of prayer to the Father said, “nevertheless, not my will but thine be done". As Maximus the Confessor, one of the early fathers (580-662), observed, Christ is the embodiment of selflessness. Not only did ‘the unique theologian’ teach us the gospel, but in living and praying the gospel He, through His words in us, introduces us into the deep mysteries of our own faith, and by this, our whole minds are transformed.
“On earth as it is in heaven”
The Lord’s prayer is stretching us between heaven and earth. We truly need to become “heavenly minded”. Here we need to pause and pray with Thomas à Kempis, who baked and cooked for his house church, all done in the presence of the Lord. “Most merciful Jesus, grant us your grace that it may be with us and abide with us to the end. Grant us ever to do your will and to desire that which is most acceptable to you and most dearly pleases you. May your will ever be our will and agree to it always”.
"Give us each day/today our daily bread”
St. Maximus continues: “the logos enables us to participate in the divine life by making himself our food, in a manner understood by himself and by those who have received from him a noetic [or mindful) awareness of who God is. As Ps. 14:8 declares, “The Lord is full of mercy," that is, full of mercy for all our daily needs.
"and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil (the evil one)”
It is our fallen nature to be tempt-able as Adam and Eve fell into temptation, seduced by the serpent. Satan and ’the evil one’ should never be translated in personal terms, for that is the opposite of what they and demons are. They are all ’things’, seeking to de-personalize us, attempting to destroy our identity, as the 'imago Dei'. Here Dante, in his classic poem, is our authority, to see Satan frozen in a ‘lake’, incapable of relating to itself, or to any human, or to God. To be tempted is to attempt to destroy our 'imago Dei', so that we become a ‘thing’ and not a person. It is the attempt to destroy our human and divine relationships by the madness of pride, gluttony, and other body-centered pre-occupations. It is what the Apostle Paul, calls “the life of the flesh”.
Perhaps, when we have spoken again the words of our Lord, we might follow with those of St Francis.
Make me a channel of your peace; where there is hatred let me bring your love. Where there is injustice, your pardon Lord, and where there’s doubt, true faith in you. Make me a channel of your peace, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and in dying that we’re born to eternal life. Master, grant that I may never seek so much as to be consoled, as to console, to be understood, as to understand, to be loved, as to love with all my soul.
May it be so for each one of you this week.
In friendship Jim