Sunday morning, as I prepared to preach from the Psalms, I found out that Eugene Peterson was being placed in hospice care. I cannot completely detail for you the impact he has had on me over the years.
In seminary, as I was slowly detaching myself from God as I learned about God, as I was in a dry, brittle and disconnected way, I began praying the Psalms without much movement, until I began praying the Psalms as Eugene translated them. There’s nothing magical about his translation, only that it helped me connect more with the Psalmist, and thereby helped me pray, really pray, to God. The religious circles I find myself in tend to hate on ‘The Message’, which honestly makes it that much more fun to read. All that to say, Eugene utilized the hermeneutic of intimacy as he translated from the old languages to ours, which I’ve not found many language experts to grasp. God making himself known. I think that’s all he was getting after in ‘The Message’.
Some time ago, as I was in the midst of depression, and as hopelessness seemed to be waiting for me at every turn, I began to read his book ‘Run with the Horses’. I was able to identify my place in the story, which brought about not only hope, but fight. Soon after that, I left the situation that stewed the depression. He helped me to remember what it was that I really wanted.
Recently, as I began pastoring a church, I’ve been listening to his memoir. Daily I laugh, cry, grieve, and rejoice because of his story. I’m a reluctant pastor, afraid of being tucked nicely away into the ‘shop-keeping business’ as he calls it. I’ve got two Seminary degrees and have been actively in ministry my entire adult life, but I had no idea there were pastors who thought, felt and prayed like me. Eugene, through his story, is mentoring me. He’s helped me see the sacredness of the call, while also helping me see that it’s not at all about me.
I grieve, along with so many others, at the loss of this humble giant. In my life, I’ve been spiritually fathered by Henri, Brennan, John, Eugene, Phil and Roane. He’ll be the third to move on, and it’s hard to imagine this world without his words.
I rejoice, along with so many others, at the thought of him embracing the Master. I imagine there’ll be grins all around.
Eugene is one of the few men in my life who has affirmed the goodness of writing poetry. So, in the only way I know how, I sat with pen and pipe and scratched out a poem for him, a man I deeply love and have never met. Coincidentally (or providentially), in the summer of 2013 my life changed in the mountains of his hometown, and so I write this with Glacier Park in mind.
I hope my thanks are soon translated to him by the warm embrace of our brother Jesus.
Glacial force, cutting through great rocks,
milling tree and stone into earth.
Slowly moves in same direction,
carving out valleys of new birth.
Mountains high, capped with razor’s edge,
snow crowned peaks feeding hidden pools.
Birds find nests, beasts food and shelter,
adventure waits for willing fools.
In range of cliffs lie clear waters,
reflecting sky and imaged self.
Within tundra creeks trout flourish,
while sheep shelter on rocky shelf.
Summer clears fog and opens terrain,
a time for play and further walks.
Winter arrives from fall to spring,
nothing hides from her biting talks.
Eugene wrote with summers warm ease,
enlightening paths for tired pilgrims.
From winters scarcity poems were writ,
bundling up his Fathers’ children.
Memoirs, guidebooks and Word written,
polishing mirrors for his readers.
In Message we love and nourish,
elder points us to safe shelters.
Pastor climbed peaks of words and meaning,
drawing down for us richest foods.
Leading on, a son called and beloved,
towards Way that we be renewed.
Humbled servant, chiseling through stones
of religious words that lost their meaning.
Moving now towards directions goal,
into Master’s home he’s now leaning.
Today, October 22, I heard that Eugene has passed.
What will I do without this mentor? Who will pastor me now?
Almighty, send us folks who can shepherd our souls towards your rich mercies like Eugene did. Send us pastors more mentors. Send us men and women who can care for us through their words and wisdom.
Greet our brother with a warm embrace.