Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

Seizing Your Divine Space

As important as it is to seize our defining moments, it is just as imperative to capture our defining, divine space. I learned this from Eugene Peterson’s writings, especially his memoir that begins with the chapter “Topo and Kairos.” In many ways, we are the outcome of the conditions we are placed in, the geography, and its season.

Growing up near a mountain lake in Montana, and taking in the grandeur of the surrounding peaks, Peterson recognized that one must be as mindful of the setting one is in as one must be of the holy mysteries that one meets. We do all our work in space—as well as time. Staying alert to both changes everything.

Coming up to the wilderness of NE Washington for these past ten years, I have learned to be mindful of place. The Pend Oreille River and its adjacent mountains and forests have become sacred to me. Paddling my kayak upriver each morning, catching the current back, and meditating in Proverbs have been more than a daily ritual—these have redefined my life.

Like Peterson, who came to see Flathead Lake as holy ground, one soaked in the divine, so this place has been for me. Here, the conditions have been propitious for cultivating the presence of God, for deepening and centering. We named our place on the river Menucha, a Hebrew word for stillness, for quiet, and for gaining composure. The cabin has been a space for hospitality and healing, for writing and reflecting, and for enjoying time with Heather and our family. Walking the trails and drifting downriver, I have prayed for God’s grace over this space daily. Through the beauty of this creation, God has spoken to me in many ways. Perhaps, as one writer put it, both I and the mountains are no longer the same without the other.

I once discovered a small cove upstream, hidden to most, where turtles sleep on fallen logs and lupin grace the fields. It became a morning sanctuary of sorts where I would go in, park my kayak by the edge, hide from the world, and worship God. I think of one morning when God gave me words that have guided my life:

 “Let your eyes look directly ahead

 And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.

 Watch the path of your feet

 And all your ways will be established” (Prov 4:25-26)

This was God saying—stay on course. Don’t get distracted when you are called to an endeavor, like writing a book, stay fixed on your objective. There will be temptations to veer off course and go after lesser things. There will be days when you will feel like giving up and quitting—but you must never do this. As my pastor once exhorted me in seminary, “Keep on keeping on.”

But all of this is shifting. Life has these “definitional increments,” a phrase I borrow from Gordon MacDonald. Webster defines increment as “the action or process of increasing, especially in quantity or value.” It’s a way of saying that occasional reordering is one of the ways we enlarge our lives. So, we are now in the process of reordering—leaving this space in  NE Washington wilderness for another.

We are packing, selling, and tossing out. The words of Ecclesiastes 3 come to mind—“a time to keep and a time to throw away.” Some things have been transported to the Ione Transfer Station. Others have gained a reprieve and will be loaded on a U-Haul truck for their new home in Arch Cape. Some things, like a boat, have been sold. Thankfully so. I discovered that B.O.A.T. is an acronym for Break Out A Thousand.

To come back to MacDonald, we are preparing to expand our lives with a new chapter.

Though leaving, I will never forget this place. I will miss staring at the tree we planted to remember dad, one that has flourished amongst the forest of trees around us. I will miss the extraordinary Sabbaths up here. I continue to be a recovering Sabbath-breaker, given my thirty-five years as a pastor. I will miss the wildlife that would stare into our windows each afternoon looking for a handout, the hummingbirds who graced this place with their movements, the double rainbows that frequented the skies, the mountains mirrored by the river in still afternoons, and the fingerprints of God discovered at every turn.

Some things will not be missed. The late August days when the surrounding summer fires in California, Oregon, and Idaho would fill the skies with smoke and leech out all of the color; the yellow jackets that competed for our late afternoon meals on the deck; the mice; the eight-hour drive to get here; and the absence of a credible church.

Soon all of this will be behind us. Ten-year transitions must be interpreted carefully and handled with great care and great prayers. Though bittersweet, we have sensed this is a good move. Passages can be hard, but they are an essential part of life. This is what I hear MacDonald saying. Reading Frederick Buechner’s own memoir of vocation, he writes, “Life is from one place to another, one task to another, one set of friends, of pleasures, of worries to the next.” If we are not careful, we can get too comfortable, the sort that turns life into a slow drift, where little is incremental. Where life stays the same, and size does not change. Before our lives eventually enter into eternity, where there is no time nor space, there is time and space yet to be seized. 

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