Sunday, April 19, 2020

Choosing life: conversing with wise writers

This time of restriction and isolation has certainly provided more time to read. The introverts among us (myself included) welcome this more than the extroverts do. At times I’m tempted to read for escape and so choose superficial mysteries, spy intrigues, or romances that encourage quick, easy reading. But I find that a week after I’ve finished such a book, I’ve forgotten the characters, the plot, or why I ever read it.
Other times I choose my reading well. Often that means re-reading an old favorite. Currently I’m re-reading Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology. I’m reading it very slowly.
The title itself reminds me of how much I love the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Peterson took his title from Hopkins’ poem, “When kingfishers catch fire.” The poem ends with the lines,
For Christ play in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features in men’s faces.
I’m reading the book slowly, heeding the word “conversation” in the subtitle. I frequently pause and in my imagination converse with Eugene Peterson. I ask him how he came up with this metaphor or what path he traveled to come to that insight. I offer my own thoughts. Actually, I develop my own thoughts through the means of this conversation. Often we just sit silently together.
(This shows one way an introvert interacts socially. I’ve always conversed with the authors of books that move and challenge me. In actual flesh-and-blood book discussions, I’m usually the quietest person in the room.)
Right now we’re considering the image of the Holy Spirit “hovering” over the emptiness and chaos at the beginning of creation. It comes in Genesis 1, right before God says, “Let there be light.” The eagle in Deuteronomy 32:11 also “hovers” (same Hebrew word) over the young in his nest. It’s an image of cherishing and hope for life to come. I’m finding (in consultation with Peterson) an image to guide me as I pray over this present darkness and chaos.
Actually, my imaginary conversations with Eugene Peterson have a basis in reality. About 20 years ago I visited my friend Miriam Adeney in Seattle. At the time she was teaching a class on book-writing in Regent University (Vancouver, British Colombia). I spent three days with her as observer and participant in the class.
Across the hall from Miriam’s faculty office at Regent, Eugene Peterson had his office. His book of reflections on the life of David, Leap over a Wall, had just been released. Knowing my admiration for Peterson, Miriam introduced us.
Eugene Peterson graciously invited me into his office for a conversation. Our visit was brief, probably about half-an-hour. I can’t even remember what we talked about. What I do remember is Peterson himself—his attitude of welcome, warmth, curiosity, and attentiveness. For that short visit, he was totally focused on me. His was a pastoral presence in every way. I sense that same presence as I read his books. I suppose it’s a type of gentle hovering.
This book, these conversations, are a way of choosing life today.

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