May Review - A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society
by Eugene H. Peterson
InterVarsity Press, 2000 -  212 pages.   Available here

(This revised and expanded edition includes the Psalms of Ascent in The Message translation as well as a new epilogue. Also available from IVP is a companion volume, A Long Obedience Journal.)

Just the other day I was taken back to a book on the  Ascent Psalms (120-134) that I initially discovered while attending Regent College written by pastor-theologian, Eugene Peterson, called "A Long Obedience In The Same Direction". 

What took me back in my memory was a newly released online video by Fuller Studios which featured Bono from the rock band U2 joining in conversation with Peterson at his rustic home at Flathead Lake, Montana. As Bono walks the path up to their home he is welcomed by Jan Peterson in a most grandmotherly way. Immediately Eugene's raspy sage-like voice brought me back to the courses we studied on the Psalms and Spirituality.  I can literally hear his voice in my head: "There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness."

At that time Peterson was still working on putting his Bible translation together, known as The Message, which began with him translating a single Psalm afresh from the Hebrew for one person. From there he realized he had been working through the original biblical languages all his preaching life to touch our world with God's Word. He launched into the New Testament - as soon as I read it I worked at memorizing the Gospel of Mark as a one-person play. I remember Eugene graciously calling over his assistant to meet me when he heard, and how impressed he said he was - by me, a young nobody student. That is the warmth of the man.  From the rave reviews of New Testament followed the daunting theologian's task of completing the translation of the entire Old Testament. 

I can't recommend A Long Obedience enough as a classic meditation on both the Psalter (specifically the Songs Of Ascent) sung by the Jews when they would "ascend" to visit the Holy Temple three times annually for the festivals). It is also a serious call to devotional life which is at the heart of what this 'instant society' needs: an honest journey in faithfulness. 

I read in an  interview that Bono is considering getting the phrase as a tattoo, but apparently he is more concerned in living it out with his family and his art. (

Permit one more sample from A Long Obedience: "Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It means going about our assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and the conclusions. It is not compelled to work away at keeping up appearances with a bogus spirituality. It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulations, of scurrying and worrying. And hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith. It is a willingness to let God do it his way and in his time. It is the opposite of making plans that we demand that God put into effect, telling him both how and when to do it. That is not hoping in God but bullying God. I pray to GOD - my life a prayer - and wait for what he'll say and do. My life's on the line before God, my Lord, waiting and watching till morning, waiting and watching till morning."

As the video unwound my heart called out for More!

More of an Irish boy and a Pentecostal boy growing up on opposite sides of the world, brought together by the Psalms – two artists moving in very different worlds sitting down to share the honesty of the Psalmist's words before God. Peterson calls us to authentic relationship with God. This is a book for modern pilgrims who want to learn to live in communion with God. Our shared task is to find common words to bear witness to the mystery of life in relationship with God. 

Comments instantly buzzed as I shared the video. "I could have listened for hours," wrote one. Another person commented that seeing them together made her cry but she didn't know why. I think it had something to do with the brotherhood between generations which bound two poets from different worlds together in Christian hospitality. She liked that. We need more shalom, that tranquil harmony that comes from the Prince of Peace himself. 

Link to the 21 minute film just released.

For further exploration:

Bono has since written an introduction to The Psalms, describing King David as the biblical Elvis. The man writes more than songs, he examines his soul, and ours as well.  He says, “Some nights I would half remember and invoke the Psalmists words directly over the plangent opening fanfare of ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’, a song which is an invocation itself. No matter how good or bad a U2 show gets, this is one of those moments when the unreliable arrival of the divine presence in the house is more, not less, likely.”