Dear Eugene

Photo by Dvir Adler on Unsplash
Photo by Dvir Adler on Unsplash

Eugene Peterson, Pastor, Author, Teacher, Poet, died yesterday. I only met him once, but like so many, my life has been profoundly influenced by his. Back in 2015, I sent him a letter (to which he replied two weeks later!!). This is some of what I said…

“The reason for my letter is to thank you for your books. I know that as a writer, you create in a very solitary way, and then send your words out into the world and only get occasional glimpses of what they’ve accomplished. Well, I want you to know that your words have shaped me, fed me, challenged me, encouraged me, and inspired me. More than any other writer, you have mentored me and spoken into my life in significant and timely ways.

With the risk of sounding like a crazed fan, I have read all the books you’ve written, and several of them multiple times. I love how you story-tell the Bible, and take me inside the narrative so I feel I have been inside it, smelt and seen it, come to know the characters and through them understood how God has worked in the world, and works in me. So many contemporary Christian writers delve endlessly into themselves and you don’t. You’ve chosen to mine Scripture.  Although I did love your autobiography too, of course!

My favourite is Leap Over a Wall. I’ve always felt a real affinity with David; he seems to understand depression, my Achilles heel, but he also lived in vivid colour. The chapter on Abigail and how she stopped David from stooping to the level of Nabal by reminding him of his true identity, recently saved me from resigning from my job in the middle of a meeting. The chapter on wilderness, which I read first many years ago, and have revisited often, has given me a paradigm for suffering, that holds together the awfulness and the potential for beauty in hard times. I love how you reach across cultures and centuries and find our common humanity, and weave us today with our very different concerns into the same God-breathed design.  I’ve grown up reading the Bible, and there have been times I’ve been in danger of thinking I know it too well, that it is too familiar; dare I confess: that I’m bored by it? Run with the Horses, Reversed Thunder, A Long Obedience and Leap Over a Wall in particular have all revitalised my enthusiasm and delight in Scripture.

My husband and I are both hugely influenced by your three pastoral books in terms of how we understand church leadership and how “success” might be defined. Shawn is living his life in a sustainable way, with lots of space for prayer, study and contemplation and is one of the least driven and externally-motivated pastors I have ever met. I am deeply grateful to you for that.

Thank you, thank you for being a pastor, a teacher, a poet and a writer who has used God’s gifts to you to bless so many, myself included. I look forward to seeking you out in the New Heavens and New Earth and having a good old chat. Until then,

Jo

Eugene reply

4 thoughts on “Dear Eugene”

  1. Sheridan Voysey says:

    Both your letter and Eugene’s reply are beautiful, Jo. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Amy Boucher Pye says:

    This makes me weep. Thank you for sharing your beautiful letter, and his wonderful response.

  3. Julianne Gilchrist says:

    So beautiful, Jo. I love that he wrote back, but, just as much, I love that you took the time to write such a rich letter to him.

  4. DONNA J DINSMORE says:

    Thank you for this, Jo. Your words are beautiful and true. I remember you fondly and am grieving Eugene with deep sadness and immense gratitude for how he impacted my life by simply being who he was. Incarnation!

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