by Leah Kostamo, Co-Founder of A Rocha Canada
The A Rocha community joins with thousands around the world in mourning the loss of Eugene Peterson.
A few of us on the A Rocha team had the great privilege of studying under Eugene at Regent College where he served as the James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology from 1993 – 1998.
He wasn’t a razzle-dazzle teacher. His voice was gravelly, and he read his lectures word for word from a manuscript, swaying slightly behind the podium like a well-rooted willow in a strong breeze. But what he lacked in presentation he more than made up for in content, both in the classroom and out.
Perhaps because his insights were so meaty, he was not one for small talk, a fact his wife Jan confirmed in an interview when she quipped, “the boy doesn’t talk much.” Which was true. But when he did speak you wanted to gather up his words and display them on a shelf with your most treasured possessions. And thanks to his 30+ books on spiritual and biblical theology, not to mention his highly acclaimed translation of the Bible, Eugene’s wisdom and words will live on and influence the Church for years to come.
Besides being a devoted pastor, celebrated Bible translator, skilled teacher and writer, Eugene Peterson was a great lover of creation. After his stint at Regent he retired to his childhood home on Flathead Lake in Montana where I imagine the beauty of the mountains and his view of the placid waters refreshed his spirit and provided inspiration for his many writing projects. His love of creation meant he found kinship within the family of A Rocha and was a key champion and supporter of our work in Canada especially in our early days.
Peter Harris, A Rocha’s International founder, recently reflected on Eugene’s companionship in the creation care journey:
In January 2008 he wrote to us [Peter and Miranda] after he and Jan had read Kingfisher’s Fire aloud over the course of a month. ‘What we experienced during those weeks of readings was an extraordinary feeling of congruence, even intimacy… there was a shared sense of identity in this kingdom work, a feeling of kinship, an intuition of some kind of cloned vocational DNA… We had the feeling that we had been working alongside you as partners for the last 25 or 30 years without knowing it. It makes us feel so good – so companioned in what has often been lonely work.’ From a couple with such integrity and almost prophetic courage (how Eugene would have shunned those terms!) this came as extraordinary affirmation and encouragement.
I had my own bit of gracious correspondence from Eugene when my book Planted, which tells the story of A Rocha’s beginnings in Canada, was in the manuscript stage. He had agreed to write the forward, but had said it would take a few months until he could get to it. I was surprised, therefore, when three weeks later I received a letter saying, “I started reading your manuscript this morning…I intended to only read for a half hour or so, but was immediately hooked and lost myself for two hours. I’m halfway through but didn’t want to wait until I had finished to tell you how pleased I am …”
Then when his forward arrived in the mail two weeks later I learned that he had read not just the first half, but indeed the whole book in one sitting. The point here is not that, once begun, Eugene Peterson couldn’t put my book down, but that he was the kind of person who would stop halfway through what he was doing to write a letter of encouragement before taking up his task again. Since his passing stories have poured in from people all over the world who he counseled, encouraged, and cheered on in their humble work within the Kingdom of God. He was that kind of man — encouraging, prophetic, humble himself, and full of quiet and cheerful wisdom.
For all these qualities and more, we at A Rocha are indebted to Eugene Peterson and celebrate a life so well lived.