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Spiritual Strength In Times Of Great Need


Today and tomorrow, many people around the country will turn to their spiritual leaders for answers or at least for comfort. For nearly 30 years, Eugene Peterson served as the pastor for Christ Our King Presbyterian Church near Baltimore. In the early 1990s, he began to translate the Bible into modern-day English. It became the best-selling book called "The Message." It's a book millions of Christians and non-Christians have come to rely on.

Pastor Peterson has been a guest on this program in the past. And he was one of the first people we wanted to talk to after hearing the news from Newtown, Connecticut. And he's with me on the line now. And, Pastor Peterson, thank you for being with us.

REVEREND EUGENE PETERSON: I'm glad to be here.

RAZ: How do you retain your faith when you're faced with such a senseless tragedy?

PETERSON: Oh, I think about that; I think about that a lot. And everybody is just rocked by this disaster, tragedy in Connecticut. And one of the things that occurred to me as I was meditating, praying, thinking about this is the one good thing about this is that I feel like I'm so much part of a united community in America.

And I thought as I woke up this morning, Jesus' second Beatitude: Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. It doesn't mitigate the suffering, the mourning, the loss, but it does give witness that we live in a country with a president who knows how to mourn. That's what I've been thinking about this morning.

RAZ: How do you begin to cope with a kind of grief like this?

PETERSON: By not talking too much about it. Silence is sometimes the best thing to do, holding a hand, hugging somebody. There are no adages that explain or would make any difference to the suffering. Sometimes people say, I don't know what to say to these people. You know, I say don't say anything. Just hold their hand. Hold them, hug them and just stay around for an hour or so in silence and just be there. That's what we need at times like this, an affirmation of the sacredness of life, the holiness of life.

RAZ: I know that you gave thousands of sermons over your three decades as a pastor. And, of course, during times of crisis and in times of grief, what have you done in moments of grief? What has comforted you?

PETERSON: The presence of friends, mostly their silence, not talking too much. I remember when my mother died, and I had the funeral, and I broke down in the middle of this homily, of the Scripture reading. And I tried to contain myself, and I couldn't, and so I finally just cried. It didn't last long, maybe 20 seconds or 30 seconds. And when the service was over, I didn't want to talk to anybody. And I went into a little side room - it was not my own congregation - and sat. And my daughter came in and sat beside me. And she was about 25, 24 at the time.

And a man came in I didn't know. And he put his arm across my shoulders, and he started giving me cliches and talking God talk. And after a few minutes of that, he left. And I said to my daughter Karen: Oh, Karen, I hope I've never done that to anybody. And she said - she was so dear. She says: Oh, daddy, I don't think you'd ever do that. But I had done that. But you learn not to do that when you've been through this a few times.

RAZ: That's the pastor, scholar and poet Eugene Peterson. He's the author of "The Message." Pastor, thank you so much.

PETERSON: You're welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.