Place and Time: Peterson’s Pastoral Imagination

Sinai Sunrise
Sinai Sunrise (Photo credit: Ernie Reyes)

Some of the most evocative reading I’ve engaged over the Christmas/New Year break has been from Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor: a memoir . The development of what he has famously described as “pastoral imagination” is to the fore throughout the telling of his autobiographical pilgrimage.

His opening section, Topos and Kairos, I found immediately compelling. The title invites consideration of place and time as markers of the pastoral journey, using biblical metaphors that are not so much the tools of trade of pastoral practice, but windows of awareness.

I found myself easily recognising such associations: Moses in the ordinary work of minding sheep encounters the burning bush at Midian. My “Midian” was the small electrical warranty and repair counter in Myers bargain basement in Adelaide. Who would have thought that the insistent call of the great “I AM” could occur in conversations with customers bringing in their broken toasters and burnt out irons?

Elijah’s Horeb cave and the discovery of the power of the “still small voice” was an Eremos retreat in a monastery on the outskirts of Canberra. The headiness of innovative outreach and dialogue amongst some of the movers and shakers of the land had ceased to satisfy. Elijah’s depression descended. The opening to a quieter more contemplative approach to ministry was literally a God-send.

The Patmos of John is a little harder for me to place – it seems most of my 40 years in ministry has been unravelling the essence of the “heavenly city” from its cultural accretions. The empire is all-pervasive. Sometimes I know John’s exile, but mostly I find myself complicit.

As the book unfolds, other places come to mind – David-king-in-waiting’s Ziklag, where resource-starved marginalisation constrains the vision splendid; the Sinai wilderness wastelands survived through the providential gifts of manna, quail and hidden springs; the place of congregational formation as tent, rather than cave or fortress.

With all these, I can make immediate association – and thus tap into the richness of the salvific direction of such events, times and places.

Peterson, retired now and spending much time in his beloved Montana cabin, swims against the tide of much Western ecclesiological management theory. I still find his voice a firm and clear (and, I might say, saving) call to the filling of pastoral vocation.

Published by wonderingpilgrim

Not really retired but reshaped and reshaping. Now a pilgrim at large ready to engage with what each day brings.

4 thoughts on “Place and Time: Peterson’s Pastoral Imagination

  1. I’ve always appreciated Peterson’s writing. I didn’t know this one, and look forward to getting a copy. I love the approach. Thanks for sharing your experiences of Topos and Kairos.


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