Letters From a Hospital Bed #48: 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.
October 6, 2022
As we continue to wonder what it means for us to be ‘heavenly minded’, I’d like to explore an antithesis to help us see more clearly, literally. Many of us suffer from a profound ‘spiritual blindness’ that most certainly interferes with any capacity to be ‘heavenly minded’.
The human eye, like the other parts of the body, is in and of itself inert, as if it were part of a cadaver. The eye sees, but it does not interpret what it sees. As modern science arose, we discovered in the16th. century spectacles, microscopes, and telescopes that each could aid the eye to see what it might not otherwise see. By observing the Polestar, fixed in the heavens, ships could purposefully navigate the oceans, while the microscope allowed us to observe tiny forms of life, now even germs with more modern electron microscopes. Yet despite this remarkable capacity for vision and its enhancement, all would be a blur in the sky, in using a telescope, or a blur of many germs, in using microscope, without knowing what one is looking for.
My son Chris, drawing on his post-graduate studies in biology, reminded me of an important dynamic of predator/prey relationships. For example, the large insect, the praying mantis, forms in its cones of its eye what biologists call a ‘searching image’. This is a pattern of the prey for which the insect is in search. As a result, when they see and recognize their prey, they respond more quickly and so significantly increase their ability to catch that prey before it escapes. Similarly, if you have lost a ring on your carpet, it is much easier to find, if you know what it looks like. We see better when we are looking for something!
Some years ago, I was fortunate to find a doctor who had the skills to remove my cataracts and give me new lenses for my eyes. It may well be the most frequently performance surgery of any kind and many of you may well have experienced its remarkable benefits. Yet, these benefits are so much more enhanced because we know what we are looking for and we know very well what it means to see clearly. So too, we may need our ‘spiritual cataracts’ to be removed. These spiritual and often emotional wounds, dull our vision, blur our ability to see with hope and impede our capacity to see ‘heaven on earth’. When Peter, James and John were privileged to be invited to behold Jesus’ glory on the Mount of the Transfiguration, it was indeed, a uniquely glorious sight. But Peter remained blind to the exalted glory of Jesus, wanting to find a cave, where he could hide Jesus from being found by his persecutors, and doubtless where he could hide himself also. For the Miocene chalk hills and mounts of Israel are full of caverns, such as at the Mount of the Transfiguration. Peter remained spiritually blind to the Messianic identity and meaning of the name of Jesus. So on another occasion, Luke, in his gospel, reports that Jesus explained why He speaks in parables, "Because in seeing they don’t see, and in hearing, they don’t hear” (Lk. 8: 10).
These days, when there is far more that I cannot do than I can, I find myself very dependent on the few capacities that I have left. And yet, while still blessed with sight, I still find that I can be blind. Even with my powerful hearing aids (if I put them on, my children will say!), I can still remain quite deaf to what the Lord may want me to hear. I need not only to open my eye and my ears but to look with intention to see, to sense, to catch a glimpse of the Spirit of God moving. And when I look intently and I invite the Lord to remove my spiritual cataracts, to heal my emotions that blur my vision, what I see is a wonder of Grace. I see what Pilgrim saw as he peered across the river at the Heavenly City, I see what Isaiah saw when he saw “the Lord, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple” For us Christians today, this means until the day of our death, we have to keep going forward, seeing and hearing new insights of our blessed relationship with our Lord. As we have said many times in these letters, we need to frequently have new ‘Nicodemus’ experiences, of ’being born again. So we sing again in our hearts, as we have done before:
Open my eyes Lord, Help me to see your face, Open my eyes Lord.
Open my ears Lord, Help me to hear your voice, Open my ears Lord.
Open my heart Lord, Help me to love like you, Open my heart Lord.
I live within you, Deep in your heart, I live within you.
Translation of Spanish Hymn by Rufino Zragoza
In friendship Jim