Monday, November 14, 2011

"The Wisdom of Each Other" (Eugene Peterson)

TITLE: The Wisdom of Each Other: A Conversation Between Spiritual Friends
AUTHOR: Eugene Peterson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.

This little book is weighty, full of wisdom, and rich with insights. Eugene Peterson, most famous for his paraphrase of the Bible in the MESSAGE, gives readers an intimate look into conversations with spiritual friends. This is one of 5 books on the 'Growing Deeper' series, which was 1999 Gold Medallion book winner in the inspiration category. While all touches on spirituality, each covers a different aspect of it. Walter Wangerin touches on prayer in "Whole Prayer." Luci Shaw engages meditation on the soul in "Water my Soul." Calvin Miller deals with teaching and preaching in "Disarming the Darkness," while Philip Yancey provides reflections on Church in "Church, why bother?" Peterson's contribution is to see spirituality, not from the standpoint of a sage teaching the student, but a peer-to-peer sharing of spiritual journeys. In a world where conversations tend to become deterministic, where command and conquer tends to become the defacto function of language, Peterson helps us see language beyond mere utilitarian, to one that is sharing each other's presence. In the tradition of letter writings, like the Apostle Paul's epistles to the churches, Martin Luther's letter to his barber, CS Lewis's Letters to Malcolm, and many more, Peterson contributes this book by writing it to a fictional 'Gunnar Thorkildsson.'

Peterson, begins each letter with "Dear Gunnar" and ends with his firstname, 'Eugene.' Gunnar is a person whom Eugene gets to know since the former's graduation from university. The conversation revolves around calling, Church going, marriage, hymn singing, the weather, prayer, spiritual life, theology, and many more. He also makes a critique on modern technology on how people seems more captivated by the man-made things and fails to notice enough of God's natural creation.  Unlike conversations that seem to present a question followed by an answer, Peterson is masterful in posing questions for Gunnar to probe deeper, himself. Rather than giving answers, Gunnar is encouraged to find his own answers. Rather than dishing out set techniques or sophisticated solutions, Gunnar is urged to find God in the most natural and simple way. Peterson may appear to be harsh on modern culture. On closer reading, it is more a case of him criticizing the non-critical acceptance of things around us to the detriment of failing to see God in the ordinary. In other words, the modern man tends to search for God in all the wrong places.

Peterson is a great mentor in this book. When I read it, I need to pause often to pray, and to reflect upon my own spiritual life as well. There is a bit of everything in this book. Who says wisdom and knowledge needs to come in volumes after volumes of encyclopedic-size books? This book can be used as a devotional cum spiritual guide.


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