“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement.”Mary Oliver
Eugene Peterson accomplished an incredible feat. He spent ten years writing a paraphrased translation of an ancient Hebrew text, the Bible. It’s called The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. He started with translating ten chapters of Matthew and was very discouraged with the results. “It was just awful – wooden, stilted, and contrived.” Then something happened. “I found my voice. I was a servant to the text. It’s a strange thing, really. The thing I am best known for is the thing I feel less identified with.”
I had read one of his books when I was in my twenties. I was recently re-introduced to him through an interview on Krista Tippet’s On Being podcast. You can find the interview HERE. Eugene was born in 1932 during the Great Depression. I’ve always respected that generation and was intrigued to learn about his spiritual life. When asked about his favorite Christian writers, he answered Charles Dickens and the poets Gerald Manley Hopkins and Mary Oliver. “Dickens?” quipped Krista Tippet. He answered that Dickens was a genius at portraying the breath of the human spirit from the abyssmal lows to the redemptive, transformative highs. He then proceeded to say that he’s had a penchant for poets and that Mary Oliver was one of his favorites.
Here is a poem by Mary Oliver…
Tell me what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do With your one wild and precious life?
Eugene continued to describe how he and his wife loved to read. In the evenings they would take turns reading parts of a novel to one another. In the mornings, he would be still, waiting on a word from God. He had memorized several Psalms throughout his lifetime. He assigned a particular psalm to a particular day. Each week he would meditate on the same Psalm for that day letting the Psalm “surround him.”
When it was time for him to leave this earth, he was joyous. According to an article by Jessilyn Justice, she states that “Among his final words were ‘Let’s go!’ And his joy: My, oh my, the man remained joyful right up to his blessed end, smiling frequently. In such moments it’s best all mortal flesh keep silence. But if you have to say something say this! ‘Holy, Holy, Holy.’ “