Today’s Eugene Peterson Quote:
The apocalyptic pastor is a poet. The Christian gospel is rooted in language: God spoke a creation into being; our Savior was the Word made flesh. The poet is the person who uses words not primarily to convey information but to make a relationship, shape beauty, form truth. I do not mean that all pastors write poems or speak in rhyme, but that they treat words with reverence, stand in awe before not only the Word, but words, and realize that language itself partakes of the sacred. The pastor’s task is to shape the praying imagination before the gospel. Not all words create. Some merely communicate. We live in an age obsessed with communication. Communication is good but a minor good. Knowing about things never has seemed to improve our lives a great deal. The pastoral task with words is not communication but communion – the healing and restoration and creation of love relationships between God and his fighting children and our fought-over creation. Poetry uses words in and for communion. Words making truth, not just conveying it: liturgy and story and song and prayer are the work of pastors who are poets. Eugene Peterson (from Chapter Four, The Contemplative Pastor pp.54-55)
Quite honestly, I was never one for flowery language. Poetry never really attracted me unless it had a bit of humor attached. Let me share an example.
I’m a poet. And I know it.
Because my toes show it.
Or how about this one?
Roses are red. Violets are blue.
Please don’t kiss me, Cause I have the flu.
I’m so relieved that Peterson states clearly here that I don’t have to write poems or speak in rhyme in order to be the apocalyptic, poetic pastor. And after my two short ‘poetic’ works I shared with you here, I’m guessing you are glad of that as well!
As I see it, all Peterson is suggesting is that you and I, as contemplative pastors, simply need to recover our lost passion for God’s Word, allowing the Holy Spirit to fire within us, a deeper appreciation for the amazing power of the spoken word to extend the Kingdom of God in this lost and dying generation.
Words have power. In James’ letter to the early church, we find wise counsel for those of us who forget how powerful our words can be.
“The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3: 5-6 NIV) Jesus’ brother goes on to say, “With the tongue, we praise our Lord and Father, and with it, we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3: 9-10 NIV)
So, simply put, Peterson is agreeing with James, encouraging us to become excellent crafters of our spoken and written words. To think before we speak. To ponder and consider before we throw out our goofy, mindless thoughts and opinions. To mull over the consequences of our words before speaking our mind. And yes, (heaven forbid!), even consider not speaking at times, but deferring instead to Christ-directed poetic action birthed out of God’s manifest agape.
My good friend and fellow pastoral shepherd, Dick Speight, says, “We’re in a season of God-directed restoration for pastors in America. In order to walk in this restoration, we need to rest from our oration.” In other words, guys and gals of the cloth, let’s shut up a bit more and begin weighing the power of our words.
Thank you, Eugene, for calling us to take the high road with the use of our words. In a culture where talk is cheap and communication is all about information but rarely about communion, may we pastors and shepherds become men and women of fewer, carefully chosen words. Poetic words with big helpings of silence placed strategically in-between.
And when we do speak, may the Lord, Himself, speak through our words.
My prayer: You are God in heaven, and here am I on earth. So, I’ll let my words be few.
Jesus, I am so in love with You. For Your name’s sake. Amen. (Thanks, Matt Redman for letting me use your poetry for my prayer!)
My questions to ponder: What needs to change in the way I communicate with both God and others? What great good might come from my willingness to cut down on the number of words I use? How can I more carefully evaluate the words I speak, crafting them with the help of the Spirit before I speak them?
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.
If you like what you’re reading, might we suggest you share this page with others!