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As Kingfishers Catch Fire – Eugene Peterson
(Hodder, ISBN 978–1473657212)

After the excesses of December, when we may find it difficult to keep up with our usual spiritual practices, we might decide in January to enrich our faith with some good Christian books, writes Amy Boucher Pye.

If this describes you, I’ve got a wonderful resource to recommend. It’s the last book by the late Eugene Peterson, the well-loved pastor and modern-day translator of the Bible in the form of The Message.

His book As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a meaty and rich overview of the Bible, for it has been formed from 49 sermons he preached, over 29 years, when he was a pastor in Maryland in the States.

Divided into sections from the points of view of Moses, David, Isaiah, Solomon, Peter, Paul and John, it delves into the various narratives, wisdom literature, Gospel stories and letters of the Old Testament and the New.

I read the book in the liminal space when I saw on social media that Eugene Peterson was living his last days in a hospice, and then in the days after he died. Knowing that he would be seeing Jesus face to face brought his words extra weight and meaning as I read; I knew that he would soon be enjoying the truth of what he preached (and lived).

Because he was a poet as well as a pastor, his words contain nuggets of truth that are worth pondering and chewing over. My copy of the book is filled with underlines and notes, as I engaged with his sermons. He’s kept the flavour of individual talks intact, with the cultural references of the day included, which I appreciated even if they seemed out of date here and there. These artefacts from that time and place root the sermons in the setting in which they were delivered.

I especially enjoyed the section on Isaiah, the prophet who stirred up the lives of the Israelites. Prophets, as Peterson defines them, are those who pay attention to what God is doing and then share those observations with others. Prophets remind us to wake up and to live in the present, not wallowing in the past or fantasising about the future. That’s why, Peterson says, Isaiah utters, “Behold,” so much – he’s calling us to look out for God’s work and to listen to his words.

These sermons are meant to be savoured and chewed over. You could read one a week, with a few weeks taken off for holidays, spread out throughout 2019. This could be a wonderful and enriching practice for your spiritual life.

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