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To Eugene Peterson

To Eugene Peterson

by Cara Meredith


Dear Eugene,


You don’t know me, but I sure feel like I know you. Just today, I grabbed a worn, pocket-sized edition of The Message off the bookshelf in my office. I ran my fingers over the indentations on its leather spine, fanning the faded and wrinkled gold-leafed pages. I thought about how your words have wiggled their way into my soul, how your version of one beautiful and sacred text moved into the neighborhood of my heart. It’s kind of like you’ve been on the journey with me, when believing in God has been easy like Sunday morning and when I haven’t known quite know what to believe – when I’ve searched for giant thumbprints of God but haven’t been able to spot any holy indentations of beauty along the way.


You were with me in college when I gave my first talk to a scraggly group of high school students: I Scotch-taped the world’s worst youth group sermon onto the front of your bible and was kindly asked not to give another sermon for another couple of years.


Nearly ten years later, you were with me when I sat on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea and dangled my toes into the sparkling water. By then I’d started to preach a whole lot of sermons, but the heartaches of ministry made me question whether God even existed at all.


Half a dozen years after that moment on the dock in Italy, you were with me at two and three o’clock in the morning as I nursed my infant son. I had finally left my position in ministry to pursue work as a writer and speaker, but I felt like I didn’t know who I was when I didn’t have a leadership position tacked to my name. I was like a dead woman walking, exhausted from middle of the night feedings and from feeling like I’d somehow lost my identity.


I tell you these stories, because in each scene, the same six words played on repeat in my mind: Learn the unforced rhythms of grace, you sang, over and over again. Echoing the words of Jesus, it’s like you smothered me with grace – even if grace was the answer I didn’t know how to grasp. I’d taught grace and preached grace and implored others to receive grace, too, but after nearly four decades on earth, I still hadn’t yet learned the unforced rhythms of grace. I didn’t always know how to receive the grace that had been mine since the beginning of time.


But Eugene, you understand grace. It oozes out of every pore of your body, bouncing off the words of a page in an effortless way to remind me that grace is enough, that grace is all I actually need. You implore me to stake claim to the audacious, obvious nature of grace – to go out and paint grace-graffiti on the fences. In fact, were I to sit beside your bedside today, I’d lay down a thousand dollars down on a thousand different tables in Sin City, in a wager that our conversation would start and end with grace.


And to my betting ways, you’d hand me another crisp, one thousand dollar bill and tell me to add another table to my lot, because, grace.


“Pure grace and nothing but grace be all who love our Master, Jesus Christ!” You’d say with a twinkle in your eyes, raising your finger an inch or two into the air for pastoral emphasis. But then, we’d stop the heady God talk. And closing your eyes because you feel so very tired, you’d ask me to tell you some lullabies of grace.


The nurse who raises a glass of apple juice to your parched mouth, I’d say: grace. The friend who comes and tells you stories that make you laugh so hard tears rolled down your old man cheeks: grace. The millions of saints who are thinking about God in a whole new way because your words helped them rewrite old narratives of religion: grace. 


And somehow, the miracle of grace would bookend our time together, for grace befits our tired, ragtag, holy selves – or so I like to think, and so I imagine in our time together.


Might you take a real rest in the one who keeps company with you.




One of those Millions of Saints


*John 1:14, Matthew 11:30, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Psalm 17:7, Ephesians 6:24


Cara Meredith is a writer and speaker from Oakland, California. Her first book, “The Color of Life: A Journey Toward Love and Racial Justice,” will be released by Zondervan in February. She has a blog hosted by Patheos and has written for Christianity Today


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Thank you for this heartfelt tribute. I was privileged attend of a three-day seminar that Eugene Peterson led at Asbury Seminary in Orlando in 2010. It was an impactful three days, and a memory I will always treasure.

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