We never met, but my life has been touched by Eugene Peterson’s at several points. About eight years ago, I was in a dark night of the soul. My relationship with God feeling dry and lifeless. I did not want to attend church or pray. I could barely read my Bible even once a week. Wandering around a used bookstore with a friend one day, I found a copy of the Psalms in the Message translation for ninety-eight cents. I deliberated, then bought it, took it home, cracked it open and still remember reading the preface. Eugene’s words opened up something new for me as he described people coming into his office wanting to know how to pray. He sent them to the Psalms. “The Psalms in Hebrew are earthy and rough,” he wrote. “They are not genteel. They are not the prayers of nice people, couched in cultured language.” They do not speak King James English, in other words, as beautiful as it is. Reading his translation of these “earthy and rough” prayers made them fresh for me, made me willing to come back to Scripture and find that God had given me language with which to be honest before him. It was an oasis in the spiritual and geographic desert I found myself in at the time.
Directly before coming to Regent, I read A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. I found I encountered someone who was letting Scripture do its work on him as he carefully and lovingly attended to just a section of the Psalms. I also ate up the video with him and Bono discussing the Psalms.
While a student at Regent, I was introduced to a video showing him with the celebrated contemporary poet Christian Wiman. Eugene clearly was not one to fall prey to the dazzle of celebrity. He interacted with these distinguished men with the same care and ease it sounds like he would also offer to his students and congregants. His care for people was palpable in all these tastes I’d gotten of him. His care for language is also evident. He clearly loved poetry. Tell It Slant, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Reversed Thunder—those are all lifted straight from poems. He wrote it, read it, appreciated it, and brought that care for language into his work as a pastor and translator. I care deeply for words as well and am grateful to benefit from the work of someone whose love for God, for people, and for words coalesced in a beautiful, life-giving way.—Jolene Nolte