Ordinary Spirituality Excerpt of an interview with Peterson by Christianity Today managing editor Mark Galli, published in March 2005:
Many people assume that spirituality is about becoming emotionally intimate with God.
Thats a naive view of spirituality. What were talking about is the Christian life. Its following Jesus. Spirituality is no different from what weve been doing for two thousand years just by going to church and receiving the sacraments, being baptized, learning to pray, and reading Scriptures rightly. Its just ordinary stuff.
This promise of intimacy is both right and wrong. There is an intimacy with God, but its like any other intimacy; its part of the fabric of your life. In marriage you dont feel intimate most of the time. Nor with a friend. Intimacy isnt primarily a mystical emotion. Its a way of life, a life of openness, honesty, a certain transparency.
Doesnt the mystical tradition suggest otherwise?
One of my favorite stories is of Teresa of Avila. Shes sitting in the kitchen with a roasted chicken. And shes got it with both hands, and shes gnawing on it, just devouring this chicken. One of the nuns comes in shocked that shes doing this, behaving this way. She said, When I eat chicken, I eat chicken; when I pray, I pray.
If you read the saints, theyre pretty ordinary people. There are moments of rapture and ecstasy, but once every 10 years. And even then its a surprise to them. They didnt do anything. Weve got to disabuse people of these illusions of what the Christian life is. Its a wonderful life, but its not wonderful in the way a lot of people want it to be.
Yet evangelicals rightly tell people they can have a personal relationship with God. That suggests a certain type of spiritual intimacy.
All these words get so screwed up in our society. If intimacy means being open and honest and authentic, so I dont have veils, or I dont have to be defensive or in denial of who I am, thats wonderful. But in our culture, intimacy usually has sexual connotations, with some kind of completion. So I want intimacy because I want more out of life. Very seldom does it have the sense of sacrifice or giving or being vulnerable. Those are two different ways of being intimate. And in our American vocabulary intimacy usually has to do with getting something from the other. That just screws the whole thing up.
Its very dangerous to use the language of the culture to interpret the gospel. Our vocabulary has to be chastened and tested by revelation, by the Scriptures. Weve got a pretty good vocabulary and syntax, and wed better start paying attention to it because the way we grab words here and there to appeal to unbelievers is not very good.
This corruption of the word spirituality even in Christian circlesdoes it have something to do with the New Age movement?
The New Age stuff is old age. Its been around for a long time. Its a cheap shortcut toI guess we have to use the wordspirituality. It avoids the ordinary, the everyday, the physical, the material. Its a form of Gnosticism, and it has a terrific appeal because its a spirituality that doesnt have anything to do with doing the dishes or changing diapers or going to work. Theres not much integration with work, people, sin, trouble, inconvenience.
Ive been a pastor most of my life, for some 45 years. I love doing this. But to tell you the truth, the people who give me the most distress are those who come asking, Pastor, how can I be spiritual? Forget about being spiritual. How about loving your husband? Now thats a good place to start. But thats not what theyre interested in. How about learning to love your kids, accept them the way they are?
You make spirituality sound so mundane.
I dont want to suggest that those of us who are following Jesus dont have any fun, that theres no joy, no exuberance, no ecstasy. Theyre just not what the consumer thinks they are. When we advertise the gospel in terms of the worlds values, we lie to people. We lie to them, because this is a new life. It involves following Jesus. It involves the Cross. It involves death, an acceptable sacrifice. We give up our lives.
It involves a kind of learned passivity, so that our primary mode of relationship is receiving, submitting, instead of giving and getting and doing. We dont do that very well. Were trained to be assertive, to get, to apply, or to consume and to perform.
This impatience to leave the methods of Jesus in order to get the work of Jesus done is what destroys spirituality, because were using a non-biblical, non-Jesus way to do what Jesus did. Thats why spirituality is in such a mess as it is today.
One test I think is this: Am I working out of the Jesus story, the Jesus methods, the Jesus way? Am I sacrificing relationship, personal attention, personal relationship for a shortcut, a program so I can get stuff done? You cant do Jesus work in a non-Jesus way and get by with italthough you can be very successful.
One thing that I think is characteristic of me is I stay local. Im rooted in a pastoral life, which is an ordinary life. So while all this glitter and image of spirituality is going around, I feel quite indifferent to it, to tell you the truth. And Im somewhat suspicious of it because it seems to be uprooted, not grounded in local conditions, which are the only conditions in which you can live a Christian life.
The author of over 30 books, including the contemporary translation of the Bible called The Message, Eugene Peterson was the pastor of Christ our King Church in Bel Air, Maryland, for 35 years.