Eugene Peterson on the Spiritual ‘Disciplines’

peterson-square1One of my favorite authors is Eugene Peterson. Peterson is best known as the author behind the paraphrase of the Bible, The Message. As a pastor, his works on pastoral ministry for our contemporary era, works like Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work and Under the Unpredictable Plant, are unparalleled. In the midst of my ongoing discussion about spiritual practices for pursuing the deep life with God, I encountered his reflections on the idea of spiritual disciplines that I wanted to share. This is taken from an interview with Image. Peterson gets it right here, I believe, because he cautions against over-ownership of our efforts in growth.

Image: This may be an audacious question, but what spiritual disciplines do you observe?

Eugene Peterson: I read scripture slowly. I pray. I worship….

A caveat about the disciplines: I’m uneasy about the word discipline. It’s a useful word, which Richard Foster has brought back into the Protestant vocabulary. But in practice it often encourages people to take charge of their own spirituality. When you practice a discipline, you’re doing something. There’s not much relaxation. There’s not much letting go. Some people say to me, “You’re such a disciplined person.” I ran marathons for twenty years, but it wasn’t a discipline. I loved it. I wasn’t trying to accomplish anything. I have the same feeling about reading scripture, prayer, worship.

I was talking just this last week to a retired businessman. He led Bible studies for most of his life, but at some point he realized that he wasn’t getting it inside of him. He went to his pastor for advice, but his pastor couldn’t really help. So on his own, without any direction, he developed a system of lectio divina, almost exactly the way the books tell you how. He compiled huge notebooks of meditation and reflection on scripture. He told me he’d been doing this for ten years, that he’d wake up at five-thirty in the morning and he couldn’t wait to start. It wasn’t a discipline. It simply got inside of him.

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