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Letters From a Hospital Bed #9: 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!



January 13, 2022


Dear Friends;


I have been increasingly sensing the need to pay attention to the simple rhythm of the calendar and to ask, ‘what day is this and how then might I live in the company of others who have gone before?’ My own book, Letters of Faith through the Seasons has been a helpful guide. Last Thursday, January 6 was the first day of the Epiphany season and it led me to ask, “what does this day mean for me today?”


Our word, Epiphany derives from the Greek word epiphaiea which I interpret as ‘manifestation’. Just as Christmas is the season of God becoming human, so Epiphany is the manifestation of God, the very human Christ, starting to have an impact. His human presence in our world has stirred three astrologists, deemed wise in their culture, and so ‘magi’, to go and seek where He was located. What made them wise, was that they sought a ‘reality’ that was beyond the assumed knowledge of their contemporaries. They were wise because they recognized what they did not know, what they did not comprehend and so their hunger drove them to seek for something beyond themselves. The heart of their wisdom was a mobilizing awareness of their ignorance, and they left all to seek what they knew was there to be found but which they had not yet discovered. They saw but they had not yet fully seen.


On this day of Epiphany, in a small village church, with Norman origins, a community gathered to lay to rest my niece, Sheila. As with the Magi, most of the world did not notice. Sheila was born with her umbilical cord around her neck which briefly but critically starved her of oxygen and so harmed her new-born brain, irretrievably. As a result, there was much that she could not do, that others could. It was an injury that set her apart and required much specialized care throughout her 63 years of life. Yet, Sheila was wise for she lived like a philosopher, seeing things that others did not see. She saw, with joy, the lovely image of God that had been planted in all whom she met, and so she loved much. She saw, with wonder, all that her Heavenly Father had made in creation, even in the ‘postage stamp’ of her garden, and so she rejoiced much. She saw, with delight, the vast reservoirs of Jesus’s love for her, and so she worshipped much. Sheila was the Magi.


As I now find myself in bed, ‘on the horizontal’ more than ever before, I am perhaps beginning to see as Sheila saw. It is this horizontal plane that opens my eyes, not the vertical. In being more still, more unable, I see more…and I want to be wiser. Like Job, I am also surrounded by the influences that are represented by Job’s friends, in this ancient text. When Job finds himself stripped of all his material ‘wealth’, his friends ask, “Why would a Good God do bad things to good people?” Surely, where there is effect, there must be cause, as any good historian would tell us. Eliphaz searches for faults. Bildad searches for secrets. Zophar searches for the legitimacy to argue with God and demands of Job “would you answer with useless words”?


For over a thousand years, no-one answers his question, until, atop Mars Hill in Athens, the apostle Paul, defending himself against the might of the Greek philosophers, answered for us all. “What eye has not seen”, he answers Bildad, “nor ear heard”, he answers Zophar, “and what no human mind has conceived”, he challenges Eliphaz, “the things God has prepared for those who love Him”. Against all the false standards of wisdom and revered competence, the Magi sought what they alone knew they had not yet seen. Against all the false standards of success, my niece Sheila entered gloriously the presence of her Lord with immense and profound confidence. From this place of seeming diminishment through age and physical limitation, I see from the horizontal what I could not see so clearly when more active. May we too, each in our own ways of hunger, seek for Him who can be found, and so join the Magi.


This is what we celebrate with this season of Epiphany!


Affectionately yours


Jim







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4 Comments


Lora Day
Lora Day
Jan 23, 2022

Wow, Dr. Houston , thank you so much for writing these and sharing these letters as a gift. It is truly so easy and encouraged in many ways by our modern society to miss out on the sweet simplicities, intricacies and beauty in life by the focus on always being busy. How quickly we fill up on what doesn’t matter. I love the gift of epiphany as a chance to start fresh. For our family I’ve been touched by my children’s heart’s draws to knowing Jesus deeper. It’s a gift to homeschool them where I fi myself wanting to let them guide our pursuit as they often take us much deeper than I would have expected us to go if…

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Jim, in our experience you have always been near to the heart of God. Your trust in Him gives us hope that we too can know His presence through a series of epiphanies.

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jwcsiu
jwcsiu
Jan 13, 2022

Dear Jim,

The motto of School District $43 Coquitlam where I served for over 25 years is ‘Life-long Learning’. Indeed, this is what God teaches us in Ephesians 4 --- to attain manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Yes, we have different lessons to learn in different stages of our life and to grow accordingly. I still remember the point you made when one goes to meet Jesus in heaven --- the time when one has finished one’s learning on earth and our Lord has prepared for him a commencement ceremony waiting him to participate.

Well, your letter #9 inspires me to continue my learning, both academically and spiritually. Thank you.

Blessings,

James.

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Kenton J. Kutney
Kenton J. Kutney
Jan 13, 2022

These letters have such gentle poignancy and I feel a personal kinship as I too spend much time horizontal in my sick bed - learning to see more clearly through these years of chronic illness. Thank you.

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