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Peterson laments the fact that he was not able to be at the birth of his children. This was remedied in his mind with his daughter-in-law allowed him to be present at the birth of his grandchild. It was soon after Christmas. The birth of Christ was on his mind.

“The day after the birth I was in the grocery store getting some vegetables and grains for the family. There were several others shopping up and down the aisles with young children in tow–many of them snarling and snapping at the over-lively, curiosity-filled, wildly energetic kids. I wanted to grab the mothers, embrace them, tell them, ‘Do you realize what you have done? You have given birth to a child, a child–this miracle, this wonder, this glory. You’re a Madonna! Why aren’t you in awe and on your knees with the magi, with the shepherds?’ Luckily, I restrained myself. ‘Madonna’ probably would not have had the same meaning for them as it had for me.”

Last time, we looked at how creation can encourage us to contemplate God. However, creation does not go far enough. Peterson writes,

“But creation in itself does not compel belief in God. There are plenty of people who take creation on its own terms, often designated simply as ‘nature,’ and approach it as if its meaning, its ‘spirituality,’ were inherent in it. There is something very attractive about this; it is so clean and uncomplicated and noncontroversial. And obivious. We get a satisfying sense of the inherently divine in life itself without all the complications of theology, the mess of church history, the hypocrisies of men and women who insist on taking up space in church pews, the incompetence of pastors, and appeals for money. Creation on its own seems perfectly capable of furnishing us with a spirituality that exults in beautiful beaches and fine sunsets, surfing and skiiing and body massage, emotional states and aesthetic titillatioin. But for all its considerable attractions, it is considerably deficient in person.”

Beyond creation, Peterson examines birth; biblical births, our births, but especially the birth of Jesus.

“In the act of believing in creation, we accept and enter into and submit to what God does — what God made and makes. We are not spectators of creation but participants in it. We are participants first of all by simplly being born, but then we realize that our births all take place in the defining context of Jesus’ birth.”

“Jesus is the revelation of the God who created heaven and earth; he is also the revelation of the God who is with us, Immanuel.”

There is a wild, wonderful world all around us. Mountains and trees, flowers and squirrels, beaches and birds. Creation is amazing.

Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, observes,

“After a while we get used to it and quit noticing. We get narrowed down into something small and constricting. Somewhere along the way this exponential expansion of awareness, this wide-eyed looking around, this sheer untaught delight in what is here, reverses itself: the world contracts; we are reduced to a life of routine through which we sleepwalk.

But not for long. Something always shows up to jar us awake: a child’s question, a fox’s sleek beauty, a sharp pain, a pastor’s sermon, a fresh metaphor, an artist’s vision, a slap in the face, scent from a crushed violet. We are again awake, alert, in wonder: how did this happen? And why this? Why anything at all? Why not nothing at all?

Gratitude is our spontaneous response to all this: to life.”

How is your gratitude this week? How to recapture that awareness so you’re not sleepwalking through life?

Peterson observes that we are uneasy in the presence of the unknown. We don’t like being kept in the dark. “And so we attempt to domesticate the mystery, explain it, probe it, name and use it. ‘Blasphemy’ is the term we use for these verbal transgressions of the sacred, these violations of the holy: taking God’s name in vain, dishonoring sacred time and place, reducing God to gossip and chatter.

The term “Fear-of-the-Lord” describes not some apprehension, but “a way of life in which human feelings and behavior are fused with God’s being and revelation.”

“A common and distressingly frequent way of answering the question, ‘So now, what do we do?’ but one that avoids prayerful involvement with God in the presence of God, is to come up with a Code of Conduct. The Ten Commandments is the usual place to start, supplemented by Proverbs, brought to a focus by Jesus’ summing up (Love God/Love your neighbor), salted by the Golden Rule, and then capped off by the Beattitudes. That might seem to be the simplest way to go about it, but religious communities that take this route have rarely, if ever, been able to let it go at that. They commonly find that the particular context in which they live requires special handling: rules are added, regulations enforced, and it isn’t long before the Code of Conduct grows into a formidable jungle of talmudic regulation.”

“The other and opposite way of doing the Code of Conduct thing is to make it as simple as possible; get it down to the bare bones of bumper sticker spirituality: ‘Follow your bliss. . . . Smell the roses. . . . Do no harm. . . .’ My favorite is the fragment of a poem sometimes attributed to W. H. Auden:

I love to sin; God loves to forgive;
The world is admirably arranged.”

The Fear-of-the-Lord requires us to live in a deeper relationship. Rules won’t encompass all of our behavior. We seek not to placate nor appease, but to live with.

Peterson uses the term “Fear-of-the-Lord” to refer to way we live our spiritual life. He writes, “None of the available synonyms in the English language — awe, reverence, worshipful respect — seems quite adequate. They miss the punch delivered by ‘fear-of-the-Lord.'”

“The primary way in which we cultivate fear-of-the-Lord is in prayer and worship — personal prayer and corporate worship. We deliberately interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to God, place ourselves intentionally in sacred space, in sacred time, in the holy presence — and wait. We become silent and still in order to listen and respond to what is Other than us. Once we get the hang of this we find that this can occur any place and any time. But prayer and worship provide the base.”

Another term Peterson focuses on is: soul; that core of our identity describing us as people-in-relationship, made in the image of God. Peterson contends that we live in a society that has replaced soul with self. “This reduction turns people into either problems or consumers.” People are either obstacles or resources, as we are in return. Consumerism is especially prevalent in our culture.

Peterson writes, “I have no complaint about this at one level. I need things, other people offer what I need; I am happy to pay for and take advantage of what is offered whether it is food, clothing, information, medical and legal help, leadership in a cause that is dear to my heart, advocacy in matters of justice, or victim-rights that I care about. I’m quite happy to be a consumer in this capitalist economy where there is so much to consume.”

“Except. Except that I don’t want to be just a consumer. I don’t even want to be predominantly a consumer. To be reduced to a consumer is to leave out most of what I am, of what makes me me. . . . Widespread consumerism results in extensive depersonalization. And very time depersonalization moves in, life leaks out.”

Another “term” Peterson explores in spirituality is “Jesus.” Peterson observes, “The Christian community is interested in spirituality because it is interested in living. We give careful attention to spirituality because we know, from large experience, how easy it is to get interested in ideas of God and projects for God and gradually lose interest in God alive, deadening our lives with the ideas and the projects. This happens a lot. Because the ideas the projects have the name of God attached to them, it is easy to assume that we are involved with God. It is the devil’s work to get us worked up thinking and acting for God and then subtly detach us from a relational obedience and adoration of God, substituting our selves, our godlike egos, in the place originally occupied by God.”

Peterson writes, “Jesus is the name that keeps us attentive to the God-defined, God-revealed life. The amorphous limpness so often associated with ‘spirituality’ is given skeleton, sinews, definition, shape, and energy by the term ‘Jesus.'”

That has been the purpose behind our Wednesday night Bible studies. We began by exploring the “abundant life” in God; and especially how Jesus best exemplified that life. We then began looking at how Jesus incorporated various spiritual disciplines in his life and how we can incorporate these disciplines in our own lives.

Eugene Peterson continues his discussion and looks at four terms in spirituality. The first term is “spirituality” itself. The word has a wide range in current culture. “Once used exclusively in traditional religious contexts, the word is now used quite indiscriminately by all sorts of people in all sorts of circumstances and with all sorts of meanings. This once pristine word has been dragged through the rough-and-tumble dirt of marketplace and playground.”

Some would suggest abandoning the word, but we can hardly describe the “with-God life” apart from the word spiritual. Peterson concludes, “The current usefulness of the term is not in its precision but rather in the way it names something indefinable yet quite recognizable–transcendence vaguely intermingled with intimacy.”

Peterson is saying we have a hard time describing what “spiritual” is, but we know it when we see it. However, we still have some clarifying work to do because of the current culture. We may need to expand our current understanding of what is “spiritual.”

Peterson writes, “Superficial misunderstandings can be easily disposed of: Spirituality is not immaterial as opposed to material; not interior as opposed to exterior; not invisible as opposed to visible. Quite the contrary; spirituality has much to do with the material, the external, and the visible.”

Eugene Peterson makes the point that the “God-breathed life” that we seek is available to all. It’s not restricted to a certain class or temperament. “The God-breathed life is common, it is totally accessible across the whole spectrum of the human condition.”

Peterson examines the stories of Nicodemus and the Woman at the well in John.

“A man and a woman.
City and country.
An insider and an outsider.
A professional and a layperson.
A respectable man and a disreputable woman.
An orthodox and a heretic.
One who takes initiative; one who lets it be taken.
One named, the other anonymous.
Human reputation at risk; divine reputation at risk.”

Peterson concludes,
“spirituality is not a body of secret lore,
spirituality has nothing to do with aptitude or temperament,
spirituality is not primarily about you or me; it is not about personal power of
enrichment. It is about God.”

In his book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson says, “The end is where we start from. . . . We begin a journey by first deciding on a destination.” If you have no destination in mind, then direction or road doesn’t matter.

For the Christian life, we do have a destination in mind — life lived to the glory of God. We also have a well-marked way to arrive at this destination, the Jesus-revealed way.

Peterson writes, We sense that life is more than what we are in touch with at this moment, but not different from it, not unrelated to it. We get glimpses of wholeness and vitality that exceed what we can muster out of our own resources.”

This is what we’ve been exploring on Wednesday nights. How do we live the “abundant life”? Jesus showed us how we can live that life lived in harmony with God.