Last summer, Jana and I spent time with Eugene and Jan Peterson at their home in Flathead Lake, Montana. Eugene had graciously agreed to mentor me if I was fortunate enough to win a Lilly Grant for my sabbatical.
I’d come prepared with questions from the readings he’d assigned me, but mostly we talked about people and churches we all knew. Eugene had written much of The Message while living in Pittsburgh, and Jan had attended the same church we’d belonged to in Alabama. It was like catching up with old friends.
Eugene Peterson never set out to be a pastor. Indeed, in his memoir, The Pastor, he wrote in detail about how little he thought of pastors, mostly due to the type of pastors who’d come through his hometown when he was growing up. He later came to lament how pastors served more as corporate CEOs than shepherds of a flock. Eugene became a “pastor’s pastor” without ever intending to. His passing this week has many of us pastors reflecting on what he meant to us.
To me, his great gift was being able to see and point to Jesus in all things. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places is the title of one of Eugene’s books on spiritual theology, taken from the line of a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Everything, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant, is infused with the Holy Spirit. Since Jesus is at work in everything, everywhere, all the time, it means that we can quit running around like crazy, like pastors often do (and are usually expected to do). After all, if Jesus is in this, our role is pretty small by comparison.
My lesson from the sabbatical was “God’s got this.”
I can’t tell you how helpful this was later in the year as Jana’s dad entered his final illness. My father-in-law was a simple man of faith; he wouldn’t have understood books on spiritual theology. But like Eugene, he could see Christ in everything and, like Eugene, he delighted in everything.
It’s nice to know that “God’s got this.” He’s got Eugene, he’s got my father-in-law, he’s got me, he’s got Jana, he’s got our kids, he’s got you, and he’s got this church.