Introductory Note:

“Eugene relished this quotidian life, a spirituality fully imbedded in the particulars of place,” writes Winn Collier. This excerpt from A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson offers a glimpse of Peterson’s daily patterns, practices of hospitality, and ways of enjoying the natural world that helped him relish God’s presence and goodness in ordinary moments.

Renovaré Team

Excerpt from A Burning in My Bones

Eugene and Jan determined to carve out a quiet life of love and simplicity, writing and hospitality. They welcomed friends and weary sojourners into their two guest rooms on the second floor. Jan pulled people into the kitchen to knead bread or cut vegetables. Eugene welcomed friends into his study for conversation, watching the lake through the tall windows, keeping an eye out for ospreys. 

Pilgrims joined their rhythms of prayer, walks in the woods, meals, and laughter. The number of guests they welcomed was astounding. Combing through their calendar and journals, you’d think they were proprietors of an inn. 

They loved the people, but the number grew so that often they couldn’t catch their breath between visits. One (fairly typical) year, they counted 152 guests. Even Jan, the consummate mother, a woman who lived and breathed to open her door and spread her table for friends, journaled about her exhaustion, the feeling that she couldn’t keep up. 

Even as they struggled to find equilibrium with their monastery in Montana, the land renewed them with infinite delights. They took guests on walks around their property, explaining the name of every tree and flower. For years, the Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp just down the road asked Jan and Eugene to guide their summer counselors on walks during orientation, providing an education of local flora. And they did. 

They loved every living, growing thing. Once Eugene described the animals he’d sighted in a single day: a grizzly in a meadow, a mountain goat with her kids, three marsh hawks, a hoary marmot, a Columbian ground squirrel, a mule deer, a couple of horse flies, five mosquitoes (newly arrived from Canada), and a stray dog. Cross-country skiing on Blacktail Mountain, they watched for fowl and beasts. 

After one hike, Eugene noted how the birds were in full voice: Western Tanager and solitary Vireo prominent among them. Another afternoon, they crossed a pile of guts, twenty feet of fresh intestine strung across their path. Pungent bear scat scattered around a grassy area soaked in blood — but no carcass. We figured a cougar had a field day. A gentle stroll through the apocalypse.” 

Eugene experienced a lifetime coming full circle. I love the smell of the woods in the rain — and the dancing light off the water. Old memories of this place going back 45 years reverberate in my head as I walk and remember and pray. I hope I can become all that I have experienced — all that childhood and adolescent stuff — and praying it into a mature holiness now. 

They bought two kayaks and enjoyed brisk mornings paddling out to the edge of the bay through the fog, which rose like ghosts from the water. Eugene often stood at his kitchen window, hands in his pockets, staring out as the sun’s light melted into the expanse of blue water stretching all the way to white-capped mountains. I love the sensuality of this place,” he said. 

Eugene relished this quotidian life, a spirituality fully imbedded in the particulars of their place. 

I get up at 5:50, go to the kitchen and prepare the morning coffee for Jan and me. I turn on the radio to the NPR station to orient myself to the world’s idea of what is going on: I grind African grown coffee beans — either from Kenya or Zimbabwe. While they are brewing in a French press, I walk down to the lake shore and perform my morning miqvah — a purificatory prayer … in anticipation of following Jesus for the next 18 or so hours. The so-called news is fairly predictable: the death of some world leader or celebrity; war casualties; political scandal or infighting — conspicuously deficient in person, in beauty, in goodness, in truth. There is no sign of transcendence. 
The coffee is done in 6 minutes. I pour 2 mugs into an aluminum coffee flask and take it to Jan. I pour myself a mug and take it to a bench overlooking our mountain lake. I sip it, pray the Psalms, meditate the presence and word of God.

Adapted from A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson, Translator of The Message © 2021 by Winn Collier. Published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, on March 232021.

Text First Published March 2021 · Last Featured on January 2022