Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

A Summer Rest at Menucha

“In pastures of
tender grass He causes me to lie down. By quiet (menucha) waters, He leads me”

Psalm 23:2

For several summers, Heather and I have escaped to Ione, which
is on the edge of the Washington-Idaho-Canadian border. Here, in this small
corner of the world, things are quiet. Very quiet.  So quiet I sometimes think I can hear the
sounds of silence. It is one of those places you can still find an eagle
soaring overhead, Canadian geese hanging out in your front yard, and an
occasional moose lumbering by. Setting out in my kayak late yesterday on the
Pend Orielle, I nearly ran into a beaver making his way across the slough. No
internet, no TV, no slavery to overconnectedness, and no blogging (except this
one). It really is Menucha.

As I have acknowledged in an earlier summer post, I’m not
too great about rest. But I am learning. Like all too many, I have a hard time
stopping.  Living in two ministry worlds
in the past hasn’t helped, but even being in one world right now, I am still a
“Sabbath-breaker”, to use Eugene Peterson’s words.  It’s ingrained in me to live at a pretty
rapid pace, and I don’t wear this as any badge of honor. Back home awaits the
ever present to-do list of metrics and systems, a capital campaign, a preaching
series, and two hungry kids. But I must be getting older, because I have rarely
thought about any of these the last seven days.

Thirteen years ago, on my first vacation from Village and Western,
I read Aqua Church by Leonard Sweet. I was so pumped with new ideas for
doing church I called my staff every day, until they stopped taking my calls.
But this summer, I have avoided any contact with the world back in Portland. I
just want to take in the beauty of forest and river and wildlife. It is almost
enough to read Scripture and a book like The Shattered Lantern
(Rolheiser) and contemplate contemplation. I am also working through Willard’s Knowing
God and Davis’ Meditation and Communion with God (one page at a
time). In this season, I find myself hungering more for a vital sense of God
than the latest effective methods to successfully leading a large church. Going
deep with God is all the success I need.

A couple of mornings ago, before the sun came up, I took my
kayak out and floated in the middle of the river and talked to God. Rolheiser
is right: God is present within and around us, but we are not, save for rare
moments, aware of that presence. “Our awareness is both reduced and clouded by
self-concern, excessive preoccupation with our own agendas, and with restless
distractions.” But when we escape and become more fully awake, and when we draw
near, it’s more than experiencing God. Life becomes much more fruitful, even
supernatural. I begin to understand what Willard means when he writes: “Life with results beyond the natural always depends on intimate interactions between
us and God, who is therefore present.”

As I have done each time I have come to this place on the
river, I have brought more than enough other books to read. Beyond extended
time with Rolheiser and Willard, I did read an article on why we should eat
healthy fast food in the new Atlantic. I finished A Higher Call, an edge
of the seat story of a German fighter pilot and his encounter with a badly
damaged B-17 on December 20, 1943.  I
began to reread Peterson’s Pastor, a centering book for who I am called
to be. I tried to read through Stearn’s UnFinished, but it remains
unfinished. I attempted Wageman’s Senior Leadership Teams, but this
belongs back at the office. (What was I thinking bringing this up here?)

I’ve been also catching up on rest. I go back to two writers
that have encouraged this: Lauren Winner and Anna Quindlen. When Winner was
asked how to be countercultural for the common good, she wrote an article for
Books & Culture on, of all things, sleep. 
She discovered that a lack of sleep leads to “sleep debt”, leading to
huge costs, personally and societally. 
Sleeping, as she notes, may well be one of our essential acts of
discipleship. It testifies to the Person of God, who rested.  It testifies to the basic Christian story of
Creation, to our own finiteness, as well as to our own mortality.  Getting away to rest allows us to clarify
values, imitate God’s rhythms, and deepen our trust. Our lives become radically
different to the craziness around us, a culture that is into hurry and noise
and connectedness. And a debt gets paid off.

Quindlen, in a Newsweek article she wrote years ago, “Doing
Nothing is Something”, put it especially well. 
“Downtime is where we become ourselves, looking into the middle
distance, kicking at the curb, lying on the grass or staring at the tedious
blue of the summer sky.”  I did all of
these—and more.  I did a major paddle
against the current and wind one day, and a minor bike trip with the wind. But
much of this trip has been the occasional gift of “enforced boredom”, as
Quindlen puts it, where we “stare into space, bored out of our gourds,
exploring the inside of our heads.” And something much more
fulfilling—rediscovering God.


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  • Becki Carr Christensen
    5:02 PM, 9 July 2013

    Good to know that you are resting and enjoying your Sabbath Rest and Time with God.
    I really enjoy Lauren Winner’s books as well.

  • Jo B
    6:06 AM, 11 July 2013

    You and your family are blessed, indeed, to be in what I call out here on the river "God’s Country!" We are your neighbors, Ray & Jo, to your south, in the log house. We feel God’s Blessings all around us, but especially here. Clearly, you know that peace, too. God Bless you and yours! PS LOVE the road sign!

    • John Johnson
      11:55 PM, 11 July 2013

      Thanks Jo for your kind words. Heather remains up there while I am back here in Portland until July 28, then back for a month Sabbatical! I can hardly wait. I hope we can meet soon. We are the ones kayaking by–John

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