The Subversive Pastor: Shadow Work.

Today’s Eugene Peterson Quote:

Prayer and parable are the stock-in-trade tools of the subversive pastor. The quiet (or noisy) closet life of prayer enters into partnership with the Spirit that strives still with every human heart, a wrestling match in holiness. And parables are the consciousness-altering words that slip past falsifying platitude and invade the human spirit with Christ-truth. This is our primary work in the real world. But we need continual convincing. The people for whom we are praying and among whom we are telling parables are seduced into supposing that their money and ambition are making the world turn on its axis. There are so many of them and so few of us, making it difficult to maintain our convictions. It is easy to be seduced along with them. Words are the real work of the world – prayer words with God, parable words with men and women. The behind-the-scenes work of creativity by word and sacrament, by parable and prayer, subverts the seduced world. The pastor’s real work is what Ivan Illich calls ‘shadow work’ – the work nobody gets paid for and few notice but that makes a world of salvation: meaning and value and purpose, a world of love and hope and faith – in short, the Kingdom of God.  Eugene Peterson (from Chapter Three, The Contemplative Pastor pp. 45-46)


Shadow work.

Serving as ambassadors of the in-breaking, all-encompassing, all-powerful, never-ending, already-here-but-still-yet-to-come Kingdom of God. Average men and women who, on one hand, look weak and feeble to this world we live in, but in truth, when we’re actively doing the subversive work of the Kingdom, we are literally undermining the underlying fabric of this present world of darkness, the kingdom of self, day-by-day, one person at a time.

Exciting work, don’t you think?

I mean who’d ever imagine that regular Jill’s and Joe’s like you and me could be swept up in this inter-galactic, under-cover espionage work of undermining an entire civilization without ever firing a shot? And who would ever imagine that an all-powerful and all-wise God, who literally loves the hell out of this world, would be bold enough to pull a few of us earth-dwellers out of our hell-holes, enlisting us to serve in this Kingdom army of His?

A daring move, don’t you think?

I mean if I were God, how could I trust that this handful of everyday, common people, recruited by God’s Spirit to die to self so that we can become servants to others, will ever be true to that kind of calling? Wouldn’t it be much more efficient for God, (and much safer) to simply use angelic forces in this work of Kingdom subversion? What guarantee, for example, does God have that we won’t blow it? What’s going to keep us, self-consumed and ambitious pastors, from taking things into our own hands, trying to force or manipulate God’s plan of salvation for Him?

Well, apparently, God does know what He’s doing. This plan of quiet subversion has been working well now for two thousand years, and I’m guessing God’s planning on sticking with this Jesus-program to the bitter end! Without a doubt, there have been many over the centuries who have failed miserably at this overt Kingdom operation. And doesn’t it seem that in our generation, so many in pastoral ministry fail at our assignments, pushing and shoving our way through life, trying to do God’s work out of our own brute strength?

But alas, despite our many failures, God seems content to continue working with this small handful of quietly confident, yet subversively contented men and women who choose to see their day-to-day pastoral work as ‘shadow work’. Individuals who take up our weapons of prayer and parable, quietly marching into a society filled with selfishness and pride, undermining this seduced world through small acts of faith, hope, and love.

My prayer: Father, it’s only by Your grace that we might continue in this trek of becoming contemplative, unbusy, subversive pastors. Spirit, please empower me to keep on in this shadow work, praying behind the scenes and speaking in parable, so that ultimately You receive all glory, as Your Kingdom advances in this darkened world. For Your name’s sake. Amen. 

My questions to ponder: Where am I bucking against God’s perfect plan of utilizing subversive ‘shadow work’ men and women to do His will? Can I become content in remaining in the shadows and avoid trying to grab some of the spotlight for myself?

So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Contemplative Pastor?


Over a 37-blog series, you and I will take a deeper look at Eugene Peterson’s classic, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our blog series home page for ease of use. Keep in mind that one of the best ways to explore the on-going applications of this blog series is to walk alongside a biblically-based, Christ-centered spiritual director who is familiar with how to make material like this part of your overall spiritual formation in God. Many of our directors in our Contemplative Activist network are available to companion you in your journey with Jesus. Click here for more info.

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1 thought on “The Subversive Pastor: Shadow Work.

  1. Pingback: The Subversive Pastor: The Fine Art of Subversion. | The Contemplative Activist

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