“What surprises you the most about this journey you’ve taken, this journey of faith?”
“How little answers I have. And how much it doesn’t bother me.”
I asked this question to Pastor Peterson after his conversation with Krista for On Being ended. I was packing up our recording equipment, collecting and tying up cables, not expecting his response to stop me where I stood. I looked at him in surprise, and he looked back at me and smiled, his laughter filling the room.
My surprise at his answer came from a preconceived notion that I had about his faith, his Christianity. Because he is a renowned theologian, Bible scholar, and teacher, I assumed he was filled with certainty and had concrete answers he would back up with scripture. The fact that his spiritual journey is still filled with so much mystery — and he is at peace within that mystery — was something that I could not have predicted.
I’ve been hearing and reading the work of Pastor Peterson since I was a teenager, when my father, a non-denominational pastor, began using a Spanish translation of The Message in our house church.
I’ll never forget the first time that I heard Peterson’s translation of these verses from Psalm 118, my favorite Psalm, and how alive they sounded in comparison to the version in the King James Bible I had learned as a child.
“Pushed to the wall, I called to God;
from the wide open spaces, he answered.
God’s now at my side and I’m not afraid;
who would dare lay a hand on me?
God’s my strong champion;
I flick off my enemies like flies.”
In person, Pastor Peterson is kind, curious, and attentive. You get a real sense of the man — and the amazing woman behind the man, his wife Jan — in Greg Fromholz’s beautiful short documentary, Peterson: In Between The Man and The Message.
Eugene was a self-described “loner” growing up. As a young pastor, he wanted to grow a beard but didn’t because he was afraid of being labeled “hippie.” He had planned to be a monk until he met Jan, and after they married, they maintained and formed their graceful partnership for decades.
In the documentary, Pastor Peterson defines authenticity as:
“Being content to be yourself. Not be somebody else. There’s been nobody like you from the foundation of the world. Face it, you’re stuck with yourself. Now, learn about yourself.”
I’ve learned countless lessons reading Pastor Peterson’s work through the years and carry many of his words with me every day. But spending time with him and Jan brought his idea of authenticity to life: that peace comes from being your true self, and that will shine through in the work that you create.