Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson
Blog, Life Issues

That Must Be a Steller’s Jay

“That must be a Steller’s Jay—black head, deep blue upperparts, and narrow black bars on the wings.”

What’s happened to me? This quarantine has forced me to slow down and notice things I have typically been too oblivious to see. Is this happening to you? I find myself grabbing a field guide when something is moving. This is concerning. God, am I becoming a birder?  

I like to pride myself on being too busy to smell the roses, take in the stars, or identify birds (as if this is at all impressive). Can I beat my record of 7.5 hours to Ione? My idea of attuning to the world on the Pend Oreille is to pick a destination and aim my kayak in this direction—non-stop. Pick a trail and see how long it takes. 

I’ve come up here to the wilderness long enough to know the river seems to be an I-5 thoroughfare for birds heading north and south. But I’ve been too busy writing and zooming to pay real attention to the traffic, until now.  

It’s not just the virus-imposed isolation. Some of it is the reading I am doing. Parker Palmer’s book, On the Brink of Everything, is teaching me to slow down and step out on the edge. I am up here working on my third book, researching and writing for hours each day. Palmer has his rules, and one is to be mystified. This requires slowing. Real slowing. He states that the best thinking (and writing) originates—not in expertise—but in a place called ‘beginner’s mind.’ It’s not about gathering facts and getting them down in one’s own words (something I am quite good at). It’s about dropping deep into my not knowing, “dwelling in the dark long enough that my eyes adjust and I start to see what’s down there.” It’s about looking for things that turn sideways, what Lowry refers to as “dancing the edge of mystery.” 

Who knows what God is inviting us to see in this sustained Sabbath. 

He is helping me to come up with an important checklist for each day—

-5:30 with God–have I stayed at the text long enough to ask—what baffles me? What is God wanting me to see, hear, explore? True reading is an act of sustained humility. Warns Peterson, “You can’t reduce this book to what you can handle; domesticate it to what you are comfortable with; make it your toy poodle trained to respond to your commands.” There are mysteries that only an inquiring spirit—a beginner’s mind—will unpack

-6:30 on the river—what is God communicating to me through nature? What is that hissing sound coming from those Canadian Geese?

-7:30 researching—am I willing to drop deep into not knowing and go into the dark?

-am I making my own discoveries—or simply living off others?

-am I thinking your own thoughts—feeling my own feelings?

-am I off on my own—or partnering with the divine?

-am I caring more about the process than the outcome?

Oh, and one more. Out of all of this reading and writing, am I becoming bloated with the illusion of expertise? An authority on leadership? Palmer gives this needed reminder—“Today’s peacocks are tomorrow’s feather dusters.” Another bird observation.

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