Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

Sabbatical Reflections

It’s just about the end of my sabbatical. I have not had one
in my thirty years as a pastor, and it was long overdue. I can’t ever remember
a sustained time away, but these four weeks have been a wonderful experience—a
nice gift from Village. Some may get the wrong idea that this was nothing more
than a glorified vacation. The reality is that I have waited for a long time to
get away and write, and this is what I did.

I am working on a book on life under an opened heaven,
conversations in the book of John. It turned out to be far bigger a project
than I planned. I have worked six days a week, writing for between 6-8 hours
each day. I have never had such an intense experience in seeking to know Jesus.
The conversations in John have reinforced my conviction that Jesus is a
no-nonsense Savior who did not come to reduce Himself to our expectations, but
came to draw us up to His.

The wonderful part in all of this is that I have been able
to do this writing in a cabin Heather and I purchased last Fall. Every day, I
have sat near a window overlooking the Pend Oreille River. Majestic doesn’t
seem to do justice to the experience. Each day, the sun has gotten me up at
5:45, and I have written from 6:00am until about 2:00pm. And then, I have hiked,
kayaked, worked on house projects, or ridden my bike.

We are up near the Canadian border in a remote part of the
wilderness where eagles pass every day. There are deer, moose, and immense
anthills, birds of countless variety, and occasional wolves that howl in the
night. A couple of evenings ago, when the moon was full, we took our kayaks and
went down river, immersed in its light. It was one of the greatest outdoor
experiences of my life. One of the cool experiences was hearing the splash of an
occasional beaver or river otter nearby.

This place has afforded me great opportunities to renew my
soul. I reread Peterson’s The Pastor,
as well as went deeper with books like Rolheiser (The Shattered Lantern) and his meditative disciplines. The
first discipline he underscores is gratitude. As he puts it, “Gratitude is the
root of all virtue…the original sin of Adam and Eve was a failure to be
grateful.” We may receive life as a gift, but we must never take life as if it
were ours by right. He adds, “Becoming a more grateful person is the first and
the most important step in overcoming the practical atheism that besets our
everyday lives.” I have found these words very centering in facing life’s daily

I threw in lots of other books, including Craig Bartholomew’s
Where Mortals Dwell.  In it, he talks about the significance of finding
space. We all need this, be it that space in a study reserved for you and
God—or a faraway cabin where one can actually hear the silence and experience
the grandeur of God. I continue to learn that this discipline is vital to
becoming who we are. Space on the Pend Oreille invites a daily ritual of prayer,
meditation, silence, slowness, repetition, reflection, and reading; as Peterson
puts it, “seeking out the solitary, embracing the quiet, listening, listening,
listening.” (And escaping from most all electronics).


p class=”MsoNormal”>As Bartholomew notes, “Place plays an important part in
personal spirituality as well as spirituality providing the attentiveness
requisite for placemaking.” Emptied of distractions, I have thought much deeper
and far more clearly. It has all been a gift of God. Nothing deserved for sure.

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