Letters From a Hospital Bed #8: 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.
Editors Note: As many of you know, keeping up with Dad’s intellectual curiosity is more than interesting. At present, we have four themes circulating around the ‘hospital bed’. One involves dreams (more to come on that later in the month), a second, an apparently monotheistic Pharoah, a third is to journey through Psalm 1 and the fourth, ‘fresh from the oven’, as it were, is the subject of this week’s letter. For those in his ‘support’ team whose lot is to serve as Dad’s “Toyota” – a reference to Rita’s characterization of her lifetime role to be the grounded anchor to Dad’s high-soaring balloon – we find he moves on from one subject to the next with frightening alacrity, somehow convinced that he has left cogent thought on one subject behind which requires a mere editorial mopping up operation, while he effortlessly moves on to the next discovery. Yet, regardless the almost superficial details, there is one recurring theme that seems to animate Dad, that we should each become better friends with God. And so, dear reader, if the subject matter seems to weave dangerously within even loose intellectual guard rails, be assured that there is a remarkably persistent order at work for regardless of the vector on which he sets out, he keeps returning, like a homing pigeon, to the same roost; to live in Christ.
At the end of my last letter, for New Years, I encouraged each of you to “Go well, dear friends, into this good new year, not because you have resolved much but because your Heavenly Father, through Christ, has redeemed much.” This begs the question, if not resolution, then with what other passion do we cross the threshold of a new year? May I suggest that we allow our hunger for Christ to deepen still further.
As I begin my own new year, I find my desire to keep learning more and more of Christ grows. And so, as part of this lifetime quest, made all the more urgent by the beginning of a new year, I was re-reading a unique letter by a remarkable man, Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916). He was a saint so passionately in pursuit of Christ, that he reinvented the meditations of Thomas à Kempis in the 16th century. Charles de Foucauld, who had grown up in a Christian context but abandoned his faith, had been a worldly officer in the French army in the Sahara. Having resigned as an officer, he first pursued a Trappist monastic life in Palestine before sensing God's call to serve as a lone priest among the Tuaregs in the heart of the Sahara Desert. For ten years, he was a hermit amoung these people from where he wrote letters and meditations to his friends before he was killed in a military conflict, on December 1, 1916, concluding a life that in every superficial way seems to be a failure. This letter, in which he writes as Jesus, to Charles and his friends, can be found on page 78 of my book “Letters of Faith Through the Season" Vol 1
"My Child, I was born, born for you in a cave in December, in the cold, homeless, in the middle of a winter’s night, in the unheard-of poverty of the extremely poor, in solitude, in an abandonment unique in this world. What, my children, do I want you to learn from my birth? To believe in my love, to believe that I have loved you until now. To hope in me, who have loved you so dearly.
I want to teach you to despise the world, which was so unimportant to me. I want to teach you poverty, loneliness, solitude, humility, penance. I want to teach you to love me, for I was not content with giving myself to the world in Incarnation, sanctifying it invisibly in the Visitation; no, that did not satisfy my love. From the moment of my birth onwards, I showed myself to you, giving myself holy to you, putting myself in your hands. From then on, you could touch me, hear me, possess me, serve me, console me. Love me now; I am so close to you…
In my circumcision too, it was my desire to teach you obedience with humility – perfect obedience to all the commandments of the church, whether great or small; unquestioning obedience, without discussion about the usefulness of the command, obedience for obedience’s sake…
It was my desire to be called Jesus, primarily because the name is true, possessing that truth, you ought so much to love, and also because it is profoundly tender and gentle and so wonderfully expressive of my love for you. Finally, because it is a name to inspire you to trust in me, to offer me your hand as freely and easily as to your Saviour, so that you will always turn to me with the utmost trust, with complete abandonment, and that is what I want to see in you – I want you to adore me as God, to love me as a son and brother, with devotion and trust."
I read this first when I was in Johannesburg. It was in the midst of all the clash of racism in that wounded country. I was staying in a small apartment within a big building and I sensed the alienation at so many levels. There, I met and I prayed with the little brothers of Jesus, the monastic order founded by de Foucauld. What a great contrast their “little“ fellowship was with the battles of racism shouting and shooting outside. I invite you to be reminded of Philippians 2:5-7, “your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…who---made himself nothing.” Let our thought be today, as I reflect upon it myself now, that Christ has given so fully of himself to us, that He desires so much of our love, obedience, and trust. I desire to pray the prayer of Charles de Foucauld, “oh my Lord Jesus, how greatly I need direction – you love poverty so much.”
Dear friends, my prayer for us all today is:
Dear Father, may we sing as once I did as a child “come into my heart Lord Jesus, come in to stay, come into my heart Lord Jesus.’ Help us to follow the example of Charles de Foucauld, to seek Christ above all in each of our circumstances and in the unique contexts of our lives. Lord, may this letter move the hearts and deepen the love of all who read it. Amen
With my blessings on each of you in this new 2022.