Jan Peterson on Eating Together

I am currently reading The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson. For the past six years, I have been a huge Eugene Peterson fan, thanks to my friend and mentor Tom Kimber. In reading a few of his books, while I still lived in China, I saw how effortlessly Eugene Peterson combined a precise theological mind with a beautifully compassionate heart. At one point, I remember thinking to myself, “I want to live like Eugene Peterson lives – with heart and mind integrated.” It was this realization that started me on the path towards the Institute for Spiritual Formation and to where I am at today.

Eugene Peterson is also the author that gave voice to an inclination that I had been having: the spirituality of the table. In Living the Resurrection, he pointed out that we most often see Jesus in people’s homes around the table. It was only a few pages in this book, but I have never forgotten them and it was those pages that really helped me to begin to think about the intersection of food and spirituality.

In reading The Pastor, Eugene Peterson gives us an inside glimpse into how he has been formed into the man he is today. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in ministry, even if it is not becoming a pastor.

One of the chapters in the book is devoted to his wife, Jan, and how she has been formed through her vocation as a pastor’s wife, a role she felt called to even before she met Eugene. The chapter is entitled “Eucharistic Hospitality,” and centers around how Jan began to develop a rich understanding of what it means to be hospitable in such an inhospitable culture.

In their home in Baltimore, Jan plants a garden which helped the two begin to understand “all meals, and everything that went into the making of meals, as Eucharistic” (p. 191). Eugene continues: “Everything and everyone is interconnected in an organic way: birds and fish, soil and air, black and white, gay and straight, rich and poor, male and female; and all the meals we eat at home—breakfast, lunch, supper—are derivative in some deep and powerful sense from the Lord’s Supper” (p. 191).

As Eugene and Jan grew and matured into their vocations, the two began to speak together at conferences. At one conference Jan spoke on hospitality, and was asked “Do you have any pearls of wisdom that you can give us for raising our children?” Her brief answer: “Have a family meal every evening.”

She expands her answer and it is worth quoting:

“There are no ‘pearls’ out there that you can use—no scripture verses to hand out, advice to guide, prayers to tap into. As we live and give witness to Jesus to our children and whoever else, we are handing out seeds, not pearls, and seeds need soil in which to germinate. A meal is soil just like that. It provides a daily relational context in which everything you say and don’t say, feel or don’t feel, God’s word and snatches of gossip, gets assimilated along with the food and becomes you, but not you by yourself—you and your words and acts embedded in acts of love and need, acceptance and doubt. Nothing is abstract or in general when you are eating a meal together. You realize, don’t you, that Jesus didn’t drop pearls around Galilee for people as clues to find their way to God or their neighbors. He ate meals with them. And you can do what Jesus did. Every evening take and receive the life of Jesus around your table” (p. 195).

Just beautiful. Obviously not the answer many people want to hear, but so true.

As Claire and I grow together and mature into our respective vocations, whatever those may be, our hope is that we can model Eucharistic hospitality to others.

Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Eugene and Jan Peterson for helping me discern God’s working in my life and to give voice to some of my heart’s longings. Though we may never meet, you have formed me through your vocation as a pastor.

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3 thoughts on “Jan Peterson on Eating Together

  1. The reason we’re at the table together every day! Thanks for the post — and for ANOTHER group of books I have to read… sheesh! : )

  2. Another great post, Andrew. This is a legacy that my family gave me. We always ate every dinner together around the table. Some of my favorite memories from being with my family are from dinner time. I was shocked when I found out that other families didn’t do that. I thank my parents for that great gift they gave us.

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