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My father, the Rev. Dr. Jim Petersen, is a retired Christian Reformed Church minister who still has fire in his belly. He is a preacher and an evangelist, yes. But more importantly, he is a lover of the Word and of Jesus and he loves to tell the Story.
This past Sunday, I was supposed to be preaching in my congregation in eastern Ontario, but the snowpocalypse in Syracuse kept me ‘stranded’ in Minnesota where I had been visiting my family. So, my visit got extended and I found myself in the youth room of a church where my dad was teaching adult Sunday School.
The class was finishing up Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts video study, which was all fine and good, but the best part for me, and I think for many of the participants, was the work my dad put into the teaching surrounding the study. He had worked through Scripture, through the Heidelberg catechism, and through the experiences of his life to bring us all together around the theme of how we have been blessed to bless others.
All of this would have been enough to celebrate, but the point that I am going to return to again and again is the moment I snapped this picture.
We had just finished watching Ann’s video story and he was telling us about how he had never thought about something before. Ann had mentioned spending eternity with Jesus and had mused about what it would be like for Jesus to wash our feet the way he had washed his disciples’ feet. And this moved my father to tears.
I don’t want to forget the way he looked in that moment. I don’t want to forget the way the winter sun poured through the window and glinted off his wedding ring. I don’t want to forget how my dad, who has spent hundreds and thousands of hours in Scripture, said, “I had never thought about that before… I’m still learning, you know.”
It reminded me of something I had just read in Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation. Permit me a longer quotation:
Souls are like wax waiting for a seal. By themselves they have no special identity. Their destiny is to be softened and prepared in this life, by God’s will, to receive, at their death, the seal of their own degree of likeness to God in Christ.
And this is what it means, among other things, to be judged by Christ.
The wax that has melted in God’s will can easily receive the stamp of its identity, the truth of what it was meant to be. But the wax that is hard and dry and brittle and without love will not take the seal: for the hard seal, descending upon it, grinds it to powder.
Therefore if you spend your life trying to escape from the heat of the fire that is meant to soften and prepare you to become your true self, and if you try to keep your substance from melting in the fire–as if your true identity were to be hard wax–the seal will fall upon you at last and crush you. You will not be able to take your own true name and countenance, and you will be destroyed by the event that was meant to be your fulfillment.Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 161
Oh, the beauty of the continued softening of a heart held in the will of God and the hands of Jesus and the love of the Holy Spirit.
Dad, the Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn his face toward you, and from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet, give you shalom.