Life, Life, and More Life

We picked raspberries a couple of weeks ago — the free kind that grow along the edges of fields and in the company of thistles.  They were succulent.  I could wrap words around a description of raspberry picking:  the gentle encompassing pressure that releases a perfectly ripe berry from its stem; the empty white cone that is left behind on the bush; the scratches on hands and forearms;  the sticky red fingertips that carry home the smell of summer and bee-buzzing sweetness.  But — there is no literary technique, no class in horticulture that comes close to the essence of picking raspberries.  For this, one must go into the bushes and experience life in the raspberry patch.

This is the nature of knowing God as well, for Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, and to live from the heart what we know in our heads, we must go crashing into the bushes with the thistles, thorns, and mosquitoes.  This is the message of this first volume (2003) of Eugene Peterson’s classic series of five conversations on spiritual theology.  The term “spiritual theology” refers to “the specifically Christian attempt to address the lived experience revealed in our Holy Scriptures and the rich understandings and practices of our ancestors as we work this experience out in our contemporary world of diffused and unfocused ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness.'” (5)

Peterson borrows a theme from Gerard Manley Hopkins and expands upon it with engaging examples and sharp Scriptural observations that argue for this truth:

“The end of all Christian belief and obedience, witness and teaching, marriage and family, leisure and work life, preaching and pastoral work is the living of everything we know about God:  life, life, and more life.” (1)

He goes on to support his argument through beautifully detailed exposition of three of those “ten thousand places” in which Christ plays and in which we all go about the business of living our days.

Christ Plays in Creation

Creation’s Firstborn  invites believers into a life of wonder.  The Greek word kerygmaa “public proclamation that brings what it proclaims into historical reality,” (53) frames the impact of His miraculous birth and sends readers looking to the two creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 for help in shaping a Christ-following life.  Firmly grounded in time and space, we find that the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are also gifts marked by the sacredness of creation.  John’s Gospel affirms in “theological poetry” (87) that Jesus was indeed “at play” in the Genesis creation.

Christ Plays in History

As creation points our thoughts toward life, history outside the Garden of Eden has been characterized by a series of deaths.  Even so kerygma — good news! — appears in the midst of the mess because the death of Jesus redeems the mess of history and takes the edge off the truth that one day death will come to each of us.

“This conjunction of death, Jesus’ and mine, is where I begin to understand and receive salvation.” (143)

Peterson takes his readers to Exodus as a grounding text, rich in the history of God’s people, but particularly in the action of a holy (and often wholly inexplicable) God.  The Gospel of Mark also deals in history, for with his succinct and economical style, Mark pioneered a new genre in which Jesus is the subject, but the content — rather than focusing on the background, emotions, or internal dialogue of the main character — is all about salvation, the redemption of every part of history:  the world’s and my own.

Christ Plays in Community

If the birth of Jesus and the creation of the world ground us in life; and if Jesus’ death has redeemed history from the stench of meaningless death; then the resurrection of Jesus is the basis for a life lived in community.  “Jesus’ resurrection is the final kerygmatic ‘piece’ that, together with his birth and death, sets the good news, the gospel, in motion and creates the Christian life.” (230)

The spiritual formation that makes community possible is the work of the Spirit, and this is nowhere more clear than in Luke’s New Testament writing about the ministry of Christ and the early church with 17 references to the Holy Spirit in his Gospel and 57 in the book of Acts.  In spite of persecution and imprisonment, Luke uses the word “unhindered” (akoluto) to describe Paul’s ministry under house arrest.  This irony minimizes the obstacles and invites present-day believers, who are “constantly tempted to use the world’s means to do Jesus’ work,” (299) into the unhindered life of prayerful obedience, hospitality, and submission to the means and methods of kingdom living. Perfection is the enemy of community and love is the fuel, a I John 4:21-style love that “purg[es] [the] imagination of the barnacles, parasites, and grime that have accumulated around the word ‘love’ so that Jesus and the Jesus story becomes clear.” (328)

Eugene Peterson and Gerard Manley Hopkins harmonize in the challenge to seek Christ in creation, history, and community and in any of the ten thousand places in which He plays.  Finding Christ in all of life is the single unifying experience that brings wholeness to our theology and moves us toward a faith that honors the risen Christ and puts His resurrection life on display.

//

This book was provided by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you are interested in pursuing the topic of spiritual theology through more of Eugene Peterson’s writing, I can recommend book five in the series, Practice Resurrection, through my review here.  And his most recent book expands Peterson’s thoughts on the writing of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire along with a collection of Eugene Peterson’s sermons.  I’ve shared my thoughts on the book here.

And . . .. . . stay tuned for details and a reading schedule for Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. I’m looking forward to a discussion here each Thursday from September 7 through November 16.

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

37 thoughts on “Life, Life, and More Life”

  1. Michele,
    Life can be just that…life…until you introduce Christ and that’s truly where LIFE begins and moves us forward in His strength. I like the term “theological poetry” which seems like an oxymoron at first. Theology is cut and dry theory until it embraces the living Christ and then and only then becomes poetry.
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, I too loved your thoughts about living out the raspberry picking, and living out our theology through the ways that we allow Christ to come into our days. I so appreciate your viewpoints, Michele!

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    1. I know that you, too, are diving into the “raspberry bushes,” taking on the scratches and the scrapes and seeing all of it as life in Christ! It’s always so good to hear from you, Bettie.

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  3. We can find Jesus in so many places if we’ll just open our eyes and see! Thanks for sharing Peterson’s book. I’ve not read it but after reading what you’ve written from it, I’m sure I would benefit from it.

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  4. I always find a nugget here to feast upon. Today’s line that leapt out at me: “Perfection is the enemy of community. Much to mull over … If I’m only presenting a perfect image to my community – we all know that is not real – then I’m thwarting the goal of living in community. I also like the thought that love is the fuel to living in community. We have to have Christ’s love flowing in us to love in spite of the scars, bumps, bruises and warts we all bring to the table.

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    1. Truly, I got so much out of this book that I could start reading it all over again — and probably should. But, yes, that point about community shouted loudly to me as well. Isn’t it wonderful to think about Community as being one of the ten thousand places in which Christ manifests Himself to us?

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  5. The concept that you mentioned, “God in the midst of the mess”, is one I’m leaning on heavy in our current events.

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  6. Thanks for sharing about this book- it sounds really good. I loved your description of the raspberry picking too but also the observation that, like living for God, it is something we really need to experience.

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    1. Even though we might not enjoy the process of getting scratched up or mosquito bitten, the raspberry jam that we spread on our toast later is what validates the experience and makes us deeply glad that we went into the bushes!

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  7. Until we muster our courage or desperation enough to crawl to the cross, and be overwhelmed by the “stench of meaningless death”, our own lives lack meaning, purpose, luster. How powerful, Michele; thanks for sharing!

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  8. I wonder at my obtuseness (word?) that I need to search for Christ at work or play in life – as His sister/child, should not He be so obvious to me? I’ll send you a lovely paragraph on what it means to abide – you might like it. I do need this reminder that Christ is alongside berry picking, washing up, settling the thorns and bruises and enjoying the hot cobbler a la mode on the back porch with me. love you, m. Sue

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    1. I think we run headlong into life, and usually have so many things on our minds that we lose Him in the shuffle. Jesus was an anomaly to even His closest followers because just when the cameras were flashing and the paparazzi were licking the tips of their pencils, He would saunter off to a quiet place because communion with God was at the top of His list. For me, I think the trick is not to be either/or, but both/and. As you said: hot cobbler on the back porch with Jesus.

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  9. Seriously, Michele – how do you do it? How do you find time to read and review all these books? How do you manage to make them all sound fabulous? 🙂 Great book review!

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    1. Smiling, Carol. Sometimes I am a bit intimidated — especially on this one or anything Peterson has written — because I want to do the book justice, but also want to keep the review as close to 1,000 words as I can. Thank you for helping me to think that I’m not too far off my target. 🙂

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  10. I tried to comment earlier, Michele, but it hasn’t shown up. So here’s my original comment – Very interesting insights, as always, Michele. I started a study in Hebrews a couple of months ago and was struck by the language about Jesus’ part in creation (Hebrews 1:8ff). I knew that Christ was present with the Father at creation, but always attributed the creation to the Father. I guess, since the two are One, it goes without saying that they both were involved. But I found it fascinating to consider they had specific roles in the creation. So this book would probably be a great resource for more understanding on the subject. Thanks for sharing and “berry picking” too! Reminds me of the sweetness of summer!

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    1. Yes, we have so much to learn about the Trinity. I love Hebrews 1. I wonder what happened to your original comment . . . the backside of my blog is another mystery. Thanks for persevering because this was a great comment!

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  11. Michelle, I love Eugene Peterson’s writing, and I have a copy of Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, but I’ve never actually read it! You’ve inspired me. Right now I’m studying the Trinity pretty intensively, and I think this book might be a great one to add to my list.

    Every blessing to you!

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