Eugene Peterson arrived at his destination yesterday morning. His book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, as well as The Contemplative Pastor, Under the Unpredictable Plant, Answering God, Run with Horses, and Practice Resurrection have all played their part in my life and ministry.
There are portions of Peterson’s work that read more like poetry than simple narrative or exposition. I am very grateful for that. In his book on the Songs of Ascent, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Peterson riffs on the meaning of Psalm 134. By “meaning” I don’t mean what the words are in Hebrew or their etymology or their systematic implications. Rather, by “meaning” I think I mean its “umph!” –its significance or potency.
In Psalm 134, the pilgrim having walked to Jerusalem since Psalm 120 at last reaches the Temple gates. But in what shape, at what cost, and for what?
Psalm 134 reads,
Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
2 Lift up your hands to the holy place
and bless the Lord!
3 May the Lord bless you from Zion,
he who made heaven and earth!
The celebratory destination of faith is worship and that is also the purpose for coming. However, what if in coming so far, at such cost, enduring such difficulties, one does not arrive in strength but arrives in weakness — as one who barely makes it? Eugene Peterson writes about the first words of Psalm 134 with the condition of the arrivals in mind. If the Songs of Ascent are a map, Peterson seems to place a hypothetical red arrow on the map and ask, what if YOU ARE HERE?
Read one way, the sentence is an invitation: “Come, bless GOD.” The great promise of being in Jerusalem is that all may join in the rich temple worship. You are welcome now to do it. Come and join in. Don’t be shy. Don’t hold back. Did you have a fight with your spouse on the way? That’s all right. You are here now. Bless God. Did you quarrel with your neighbor while making the trip? Forget it. You are here now. Bless God. Did you lose touch with your children while coming and aren’t sure just where they are now? Put that aside for the moment. They have their own pilgrimage to make. You are here. Bless God. Are you ashamed of the feelings you had while traveling? the grumbling you indulged in? the resentment you harbored? Well, it wasn’t bad enough to keep you from arriving, and now that you are here, bless God. Are you embarrassed at the number of times you quit and had to have someone pick you up and carry you along? No matter. You are here. Bless God.
Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
Peterson has the psalmist speaking to the many circumstances one may arrive to worship and has the psalmist call them to worship (no matter where they’ve come from) with the refrain, “Bless God”.
In honor of the Pastor Eugene Peterson, I am reposting this poem based on his words. He gets all the credit for anything good, but if bad, the blame lies with me.
Lord, we bless you and thank you for the pastor.
If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the poem via the player below.
Did you fight with your spouse along the way?
That’s all right. You’re here now.
Did you quarrel with your neighbor while on the road?
Forget it. You are here now.
Lost touch with your children, haven’t seen them all day?
Take a moment; for these worries, pray,
But while you wait, arise, say,
“They are yours; you are mine;
I bless you, God.”
All those wasted miles pouting, are you ashamed–
The grumbling indulged? the resentment inflamed?
It wasn’t so bad that it kept you abroad,
And now that you are here,
Embarrassed by quitting, that you’re not counted tough?
How your burdens were carried by those who bore you up?
No matter. At long last, you are here;
Join with the assembly, the joyful throng
Whether sinner, saint,
Afraid, faint, weak, or strong
We have arrived together,
You’re where you belong.
Welcome, take your place, and
Let us, bless God.
The thoughts and some of the words are most certainly, Eugene Peterson’s.
See: Eugene H.. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Kindle Locations 2394-2401). IVP Books. Kindle Edition.
artwork: Illustration of The Pilgrim’s Progress or Christian’s journey from the City of Destruction in this evil World to the Celestial City; Published July 1, 1813 by J. Pitts No 14 Great St Andrews Street Seven Dials.