“Eugene was more than The Pastor. He was more than The Author. Truly this man lived and breathed and smiled Jesus.” —Don Pape

Eugene Peterson died on Monday, October 22. I am sad.

His family reports, “During the previous days, it was apparent that he was navigating the thin and sacred space between earth and heaven. We overheard him speaking to people we can only presume were welcoming him into paradise.”

His death left a huge hole in my heart. I was hooked on his first book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, and read many others, right down to his more recent, As Kingfishers Catch Fire. My soul does catch fire through his words.

After reading Leap Over a Wall, his book on King David, I packaged some courage and a few excerpts from my David manuscript, asking him for an endorsement of The Stones. Didn’t hear, didn’t hear.

Then I got a letter. He had just finished The Message, and in the pile of mail on his desk, he found my packet. He liked the excerpts and enclosed an endorsement:

We know more of David’s life than any other biblical person. But not nearly enough. The tangle of motives and emotions, chaos and charisma continue to kindle the imaginations of our best writers, drawing us into a story in which we see every detail of our humanity against the epic of salvation. Eleanor Gustafson is one of our best.

THEN—a few days later, the phone rang, the caller identifying himself as Gene Peterson. Yikes! My brain shut down. How many ways can you say THANK YOU without sounding totally stupid? He was gracious, though, and we corresponded a bit, after that.

A final Peterson quote:

The metaphor of eating a book is my favorite of all St. John’s well-crafted words. It means, of course, “Get this book into all the sinews and muscles and nerves of your body. It is not enough to get it into your head; get the book into your stomach and feet. Live and digest this salvation life!” (From As Kingfishers Catch Fire, p. 367.)

No anorexic faith allowed here! My task now is to embody the Jesus that Peterson lived and breathed and smiled.

Permission granted by artist Robert Berran

Are you a Peterson fan? Have any of his books—The Message, perhaps—influenced your life? Please leave a comment, or email me at egus@me.com