Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

Sabbath Reflections

There are just two more days, and my Sabbatical will be over. It’s been a wonderful gift. After thirty years of pastoring, completing this second half of my Sabbatical has been timely and renewing. I entered into these four weeks with a bit of uncertainty. I knew it would be here in Ione, where God has provided a wonderful cabin on the Pend Oreille River. What I didn’t have was a clear plan. Some would say that a planned Sabbatical is an oxymoron. It should be random, but I am not so good with this. I have tried to follow in the Spirit’s current, and here is where He took me—


This is where I have spent the bulk of my time. I am too far in this book, Life Under An Opened Heaven, to stop. So I have pressed on 5-8 hours every morning. It has been nurturing, inspiring, and maddening. I know of few disciplines that require so much of my total being, and no book like John that bends my brain. Lord willing, it will completed by year end, and God will provide a publisher.


I began with three books: Sacred Fire (Rolheiser), The Attentive Life (Ford), and An Altar in the World (Taylor). These were primarily for my soul. They shift me from doing for God to paying attention to what God is doing. I worked through Duty by Robert Gates to satisfy the political side of me. I am also wrapping up Quiet (a fascinating book about introverts) and Rise (an insightful read on Leadership). One of the pleasant surprises was Reading for Preaching by Plantinga. I threw it in at the last minute and had a most delightful Sunday afternoon savoring every chapter.  He reminded me that effective preaching begins with great reading. Great books remind us “how remorselessly parochial we are, peering out of life from our single points of view and trying to stuff everything we see into our prefabricated categories.” Reading really saves my life.


It is so quiet up here. No TV, no freeway noise, and no alarm clocks. Some of my best moments were my daily excursions in my kayak. I would sometimes get up just before the sun rises and head south, and then drift downstream north, alone with God. Sometimes I paddled in the late afternoon, and one night Heather and I paddled under a full moon. These were times to reflect and think about life. I don’t make enough time for this. Psalm 19 declares that God speaks through creation. Day to day their voices speak. Up here, my senses are much more aware. You can start to sound like Wendell Berry and Annie Dillard (which beats sounding like FOX News). I have watched eagles nest and give birth to their young, deer romp through the yard, and beavers swimming in the river. I attempted to journal all of this, but only made it to the third day. Most majestic are the forests. One day, Heather and I got hopelessly lost on a hike. But it is okay. In Taylor’s book, one of the spiritual practices is The Practice of Getting Lost. It’s one of the purposes of the wilderness. We need an occasional experience of vulnerability,” when our safety nets have ripped and our expansive armor has sprung a leak.” We finally made it back to the road, several miles from the trailhead, feeling especially spiritual.


I’m not so good at this, but I developed a nice early afternoon habit of laying out on the deck and looking up at the sky, watching the clouds and allowing the mind to go into sleep mode. Part of my renewal is exercise, and every day I swam a good distance in the river, as well as took occasional 18 mile round trip bike trips into Ione. But there is a market here, one that suffers from grease smells and high prices, but it has the best ice cream around. It turns out the bike trips were not so great for my personal fitness.


The difference between owning and renting is the maintenance. We took out dead trees and planted new ones. It has been a mix of mowing, painting, replacing, repairing, cleaning, and weeding. Sometimes pleasurable, but mostly not (but great for my Fuel Band numbers),


Having Heather and my son, and my mom up here were a great part of this trip. We planted a tree with dad’s ashes, and so far it is thriving. The time of quiet on the river has been healing for mom. Heather has been here for several months, but it has been anything but a Sabbatical for her. She works constantly on projects, including mowing and weeding. This has been a special blessing. Nate insisted on watching Band of Brothers, so every night has been another adventure with Easy Company.

It will not be easy coming back.


Leave a Reply