Living with the Spirit: Thomas Kelly and the Death of Eugene Peterson

A few days ago (Oct. 20, 2018) I published a post about  attempting to live on two levels of thought at the same time:  the practical experiencing of life as it happens  around us and a second level of  attention to life with the Holy Spirit.  In response, a reader and treasured friend shared a quote (which she carries in her Bible) from Thomas Kelly which was passed on by her spiritual director .  It speaks eloquently to the point I was trying to make:  

“There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all of the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship, and a gently receptiveness to divine breathings” (A Testament of Devotion).

I wish you this lovely experience today – and everyday.

♦   ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

A man who deeply knew how to live simultaneously on these two levels died on Oct. 22.  Eugene Peterson was one of my spiritual fathers. I deeply grieve the loss of his intellect and his perspective on spiritual formation. The New York Times describes Peterson as a “scholar turned homespun pastor.” CT calls him a “shepherd’s shepherd” and fittingly notes that he has “completed his ‘long obedience in the same direction.”

A linguist, Eugene Peterson began his career teaching Hebrew and Greek to seminarians. He left his role as an academic in 1963 to found Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland, where he served for nearly 30 years. Giving up the ministry to return to life as an academic, he became the James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, from 1993 to 1998. He continued teaching there as an emeritus professor until 2006.

Eugene Peterson wrote more than 30 books. My favorites are: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (which became my definition of discipleship,) The Jesus Way, Pastor (a chronicle of his career as a practicing pastor), Eat this Book (which is quoted on every Going Deeper with God post on this blog), Practice Resurrection, and his last As Kingfishers Catch Fire, a collection of sermons.

But the main reason Eugene Peterson is one of my spiritual fathers is his fresh and stunning paraphrase of the Bible, The Message. This book, which has sold millions of copies, was first written verse by verse during Peterson’s life as a pastor. Wanting to guarantee that his flock understood scripture well enough to practice – and appreciate it, he began translating the texts of his sermons into simple, beautiful, idiomatic English.  Later in life he began putting these verses together to create a masterpiece.

As a writer, I have always been thrilled by Peterson’s craftsmanship and artistry in the Message. His prose and poetry in Scripture were not only clear and understandable, but also beautifully creative and memorable. It was Peterson’s version that made the Bible become real to me. It is still my go-to version. Reading The Message is like reading a beautiful and inspiring letter from a friend – which, of course, is what Scripture is. I learned to love the man as well as his writing.

The details of his last moments are as refreshing as his writing.  His family reports:

“During the previous days, it was apparent that he was navigating the thin and sacred space between earth and heaven,” they stated. “We overheard him speaking to people we can only presume were welcoming him into paradise. There may have even been a time or two when he accessed his Pentecostal roots and spoke in tongues as well. . . .

I mourn the loss of this great man, but I have to smile through my tears about the details of his passing. His son Eric reports that “among his final words were, ‘Let’s go.’ And his joy: my, oh my; the man remained joyful right up to his blessed end, smiling frequently. In such moments it’s best for all mortal flesh to keep silence. But if you have to say something say this: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy.’”

But Eugene Peterson (1932 – 2018) left us a legacy: his words and his Word.  Holy, Holy, Holy.

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2 Responses to Living with the Spirit: Thomas Kelly and the Death of Eugene Peterson

  1. Barbara Steen says:

    Lovely. Thank you.

    On Thu, Oct 25, 2018 at 8:34 AM Living as Apprentices wrote:

    > livingasapprentices posted: “A few days ago (Oct. 20, 2018) I published a > post about attempting to live on two levels of thought at the same time: > the practical experiencing of life as it happens around us and a second > level of attention to life with the Holy Spirit. In response” >

  2. Carol McGeehan says:

    This is so beautiful.Thank you Karen!

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