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Letters From a Hospital Bed #44: 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.

An Exploration of the Strange Experience of Being Still…Well, More Still Than Normal!

September 11, 2022


Dear Friends:


Through a recent conversation with my daughter Claire, and in light of the seemingly sudden death of our Queen, I am prompted to share with you my own brief reflections on her life, on the occasion of her death. It was never my personal privilege to meet her in person, but I recall three ‘close encounters’ where her life touched those of a dear friend and colleague, my own sister and in a personal encounter I had with her husband, the late Duke of Edinburgh. Three ‘close encounters’ and through them, three lessons that I find both timely and instructive for us all.


In the first, my good and now departed friend, John Stott, was invited by the Queen to provide her with personal counsel and instruction regarding her own faith in Christ. While John spoke very little of these regular meetings with Her Majesty, they originated from a well-publicized meeting she had with Billy Graham. It is reported that upon a request to suggest from whom else the Queen might seek personal counsel in her faith in Christ, Billy Graham had suggested she consult with John Stott. Today, she might have well sought out either the Archbishops of York or Canterbury, Stephen Cottrell and Justin Welby respectively, whose vibrant and deep personal faith in Christ is very evident to all. But my friend John was more of a ‘rarity’ in his time and so he became, for a time, an advisor to the Queen in knowing Christ more personally. The Queen wanted to know Jesus better and set out to do so. Such an inquiry changed her life of faith.


The second encounter was between the Queen and my own sister, Ethel, upon the receipt of recognition to my sister for her service to the Law. Ethel had first served her country in Bletchley, decoding military signals and abiding a life of deep secrecy. Later, Ethel went on to become the first female in Scottish history to be a law partner in a Scottish law firm, and to serve on a number of royal commissions. In receiving an OBE (Order of the British Empire), Ethel was the recipient of an award that derived from the institutionalizing of commendation, of saying “well done”, of an act to call forth and offer praise to another. This action, steeped as it is in precedent was important enough to the Queen that she simply showed up and said “well done” to my sister. She didn’t have to, but it matters. She went out of her otherwise busy schedule and stopped, looked at Ethel and told her she had done a good job. It makes me wonder how many of us do the same. Do we notice what others have done that is good? Do we go out of our way to simply affirm, to congratulate, to praise, to add a voice of appreciation for their actions? Perhaps we should do that more.


The third encounter was my own when The Duke of Edinburgh visited the newly constructed College of St Catherine’s in Oxford, where I was a tutor. The new building was proudly on display with its Danish architect present, fussing over everything that the Duke should appreciate. Like many other Danish lowland structures, the college is built almost below the level of the Isis River, a tributary to the Thames. On the day of his visit, it was wet, very wet, and the bemused Duke expressed his hope that the new building would not sink into the mire! It was not that the late Duke was any stranger to rigour. Indeed, he was a strong supporter of his own alma mater, Gordonstoun, where the founder had brought a pedagogy that involved a close interaction of both physical and intellectual rigour. Both the Queen and her husband, despite all their worldy ‘power’, both recognized that they needed to be in submission to something other than themselves. In a recent television interview, a grieving subject repeated a few times her admiration for ‘the most powerful woman in the world’, and while that may well be hyperbole, there is undeniably a dimension of the lives of both the Queen and her husband that, despite their titles and considerable wealth, they have lived in submission to a rigour that was not of their wills, but of another and greater will than their own.


Three ‘close encounters’ with a monarch now dead. Three principles; to know Jesus better, to bless and affirm others, and to submit our wills to a rigour greater than our own authority. Quite the woman, quite the legacy. We might do well to follow her example in these simple ways, such that when we are dead others might reflect of us that we desired to know Christ more, were liberal with praise, and placed our autonomy under the yoke of obedience. May it be said of us all.

In friendship Jim

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