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Letters From a Hospital Bed #46: Reflections From a 99 Year Old

Updated: Sep 25, 2022

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 22, 2022

Dear Friends:

As we continue to consider what it means, in practice, to be ‘heavenly minded’, I’d like to share with you a glimpse into my days and how they generally begin. After finishing breakfast with my fellow denizens on this part of the second floor of our hospital, friends whom I refer to as fellow ‘inmates’, I return to my comfortable chair which is beside a large window overlooking a beautiful park. I have the leisure in my retirement (editors note:…What retirement!! He certainly keeps the rest of us busy enough!), to ask myself what shall I do this morning? ‘Doing something’ is the role of Martha, “filled with many cares”, instead of emulating Mary “sitting at the Lord’s feet” in contemplation. I am privileged to be one floor up looking down upon a small park still populated with a few remaining trees that are part of the old growth forests that once filled this modern city scape. Always an explorer, I was asking the Lord how we could together explore in this next series of meditations and how could you and I become more of a healing ‘presence’ in the lives of others. For, in the pristine state of contemplation, when the nature of being human was to be made in the image and likeness of God, Adam and Eve, and thence you and I, were all created by God in His image and likeness, to have positive emotions like kindness, mercy and indeed to love one another. I am reminded of Christ’s declaration in Luke 4 of His mission to preach good news to the poor, give sight to the blind and release for the captives, and set the oppressed at liberty. All specific acts of service and healing for others. Spiritual knowledge or contemplation, stated the Early Fathers, was the end of ‘praxis’, or practice, as St Maximus observed: “as contemplation, becoming the healing of the emotions, leading to our fuller conversion”. The ascetic life contributed to this new condition of contemplation, as 'cleansing of the soul'. The two must now go together, practice and contemplation. Faith and its practice in helping others, go together. Martha is action without contemplation, while Mary’s posture was the better role, of contemplation at the feet of Jesus, who accomplishes everything for us. In marriage or in friendship, if one partner is only a facilitator, like Martha, then if the other is only a server, or exhorter, or perceiver, then there could develop tensions between them. But the’ better part’ as Jesus mildly rebuked Martha, was the posture of Mary as a contemplative. None of us ever really get this balance between action and contemplation right. Even with limited mobility, I find the urgency to write before reflection still haunts me nearly every day, so I have to lean towards too much contemplation because I will easily drift towards too much (attempted, at least) action. So, as I began my morning today, I asked myself, how is it possible I can become a healing - indeed, a truly “therapeutic presence”, in the lives of one or more persons who are already “in Christ”, to use the Apostle Paul’s language? I am quite certain that it does not begin with being busy, rather, it begins with being still. It begins with being ‘heavenly minded’ that I might through deeper contemplation become more ‘earthly good’. As contemplation becomes the healer of every ill, so we sing with Marty Haughen (1986):

Refrain: Healer of our every ill, light of each tomorrow, give us peace beyond our fear, and hope beyond our sorrow.

In the pain and joy beholding how your grace is still unfolding, give us all your vision, God of love. [Refrain]

You who know each thought and feeling, teach us all your way of healing; Spirit of compassion, fill each heart. [Refrain]

My prayer for you this week is that as you choose stillness over action, contemplation over neglect, meditation over thoughtlessness, the Lord will soften your heart for others, will bring them to mind such that you can then bring them before Christ and deepen your desire that they be healed. May He then grant you the desires of your heart, His desires in your heart.

In friendship Jim

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Ah! I love the way you worded this - that I might be a 'therapeutic presence' to those around me who are in Christ. I have often quoted you about the gift of an authentic friendship - how that often times a safe and true friendship can be as helpful, or even more helpful, than a 'paid counselor.' But as for me, the nearness of God is my good. I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all his works. I love imagining you in his nearness at your second floor window. Sending gratitude to you today, Melanie from. Birmingham, AL


Thank you Dr. Houston, these letters are a salve of hope amidst a wounded and dying world.

As I’ve expressed to you before, choosing the stillness over busyness isn’t an easy answer of doing nothing. And as you have reminded me, more than once, stillness isn’t doing nothing, it is paying attention to what God is doing in and around me. “Yes, what is God doing in your life?”

I hated that question, as I’d much rather look out than in. Yet, and it’s taken far longer time than I care to admit, I’m growing to appreciate the attentiveness to self and personhood that this question calls out. That attentiveness to what God is doing in me, I’v…


Sep 22, 2022

Dear Dr. Houston,

Thank you for yet another wonderful letter to reflect upon the desires of our hearts as we exchange wishes with God in prayer for others and ourselves. While reading Matthew 13:13-15 and Matthew 15: 8, I was able to make connections to your post. Contemplation and practice - ora et labora - is indeed the rhythm of the saints. We never retire from this pursuit! I am so grateful for your model of perseverance in this respect. Happy beginning of autumn today! Love, Angelina


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