Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

Getting Centered

From the beginning, the intent of having a place on the Pend Oreille River has been for spiritual renewal. We named our cabin Menucha, a word that comes from a Hebrew term in Ps 23:2–

“In pastures of fresh grass He causes me to settle; besides waters of quieting rest (me-nu-cha), He guides, helps me along”

The waters up here are a quieting rest that have helped me along. There’s something mesmerizing about rivers, especially when they are calm. In the quiet, one hears with greater clarity this ongoing invitation to give attention to our souls, to the “invisible interior” of our lives. In the noise, this voice is often drowned out. Most of our lives are lived in the commotion, devoted to the chase, to things related to the “visible exterior”, to outward appearances and gaining profits. There’s a centering work that happens when we are able to escape the rush. So we cherish this gift of place on the Pend Oreille.

Beyond the day to day maintenance that comes with life in the wilderness, as well as the observance of creation–there is the writing. I am almost finished with this John project. I am also determined to get a better handle on spirituality. Spirituality is one of those subjects whose meaning everyone claims to know until they have to define it. Eugene Peterson remains a steady counselor, who gives these five items of counsel (in his Subversive Spirituality) for those who hunger and thirst after intimacy and transcendence, for the work of the Spirit in the invisible interior:

1-Acquire a biblical imagination. This requires an immersion into Scripture, gaining an instinct for reality. I like this. Most of the world tends to pull me into unrealities (like everything depends upon who will be the next President). Here’s reality–“No sooner are the rulers of the world planted, than He blows on them and they wither” Isa 40:24.

Lots of people claim to be on a spiritual quest, but spirituality that is not continuously soaked in the revelation of God hardens into self-righteousness or dissolves into psychology and self-help.

2-Make the commitment. At the core of spirituality is the decision to believe, follow, stay at it. Spirituality without commitment is like sexuality without covenant. Casual sex degenerates into addiction, violence, or boredom. Casual spirituality devolves into faddish religion and meaningless chatter. What looks good is exposed in the first crisis as rather thin.

3-Explore the journeys of fellow travelers. Spirituality, as Peterson puts it, digs deep into various Christiantraditions with the aim of tapping into a common aquifer. I am currently reading a book edited by Kenneth Collins, Exploring Christian Spirituality. It is an introduction to various traditions, from Carmelite to Lutheran to Reformed to Methodist spirituality. I need a more expansive search with a view to looking for the common aquifer. I am discovering that contemplation, solitude, silence, and prayer is part of it.

4-Return to your own journey. In one of my courses at seminary, I take students to a nearby Orthodox church. Often there is a sense we, in our evangelical tradition, have been deprived of a certain depth. Our worship can feel thin and tinny after sitting in the nave surrounded by icons and incense. Sometimes, people jump ship. But every tradition has its dead spots. Our task is to dig wells in our own desert, for as Peterson notes, “Spirituality does not normally thrive by transplant.”

5-Look for spiritual mentors. Most often, I have found them in books. People like Bonheoffer, Rolheiser, Taylor, and Willard come immediately to mind. Beware of the faddists who market their junk food. The same gullibility that moved saints of old to buy relics from itinerant monks is still present.

Wise counsel for those able to find a summer rest. 

Leave a Reply