Back to the beginning

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.*
(T. S. Eliot)

Yesterday, writer and pastor Eugene Peterson died.

Twenty years ago, in his book Under the Unpredictable Plant, Peterson provided me with the words that would help me to set out on a new trajectory, my slow journey in the same direction.

Back then, I would read of how he was ready to give up on the pastoral work he had once felt himself called to, though no longer, and I was ready to give up, too:

‘Every few days or so another pastor gets out of bed and says, “That’s it.  I quit.  I refuse to be a branch manager any longer in a religious warehouse outlet.  I will no longer spend my life marketing God to religious consumers.  I have just read the job description the culture handed me and I am buying it no longer.’**

I think it was Peterson who also introduced me to T. S. Eliot’s words about exploration.

Peterson would agree with his concerned congregation that he would focus on writing and pastoring and they would do everything else.  He was to remain there another twenty years producing some of his richest work.

Here I am at my own twenty year point.  Back then, I had no idea where Peterson’s encouragement would lead me.

I still do not know.

This is not the destination, only somewhere on the journey that is less about geography and more about playfulness with ideas.  (The journey and the exploration is different for everyone.)

It had been a chance encounter, though.  I had been lent the book by friends and I had promptly returned it, but the words and concept remained with me.  More recently, I have read Peterson’s Run With the Horses and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction but it is those original words that have been the most powerful.

There are two things that come from this experience for me.

One is that there’s always an opportunity to take a different direction in life and it’s closer than we think.

The second thing is that I want to hold such a possibility before each person I meet and work with.

This is my simple thank you to Eugene Peterson for putting the words out there so that one day a person like me could trip over them and get up to walk in a different direction.

(*From T. S. Eliot’s Little Gidding.)
(**From Eugene Peterson’s Under the Unpredictable Plant.)

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2 thoughts on “Back to the beginning

  1. What a beautiful goodbye.
    I can deeply relate to your slow journey in the same direction and I am touched by the words – “know the place for the first time”. For me, it is the essence of landscape painting.
    In Hebrew, the biblical verb “know” speaks of an understanding that is both sensual and spiritual.
    A wholistic knowledge.
    Thank you.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this, Shirley, especially the depth of knowing and what this invites us to in our lives.

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