Meet Amy Peterson, author of “A Beautiful Inheritance.”
Amy Peterson is the author of Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World (Discovery House, 2017). (Here she is with her family and the book). Amy has taught college courses since 2003; she has an M.A. in Intercultural Studies from Wheaton and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. Amy and her family are members of Gethsemane Episcopal Church in Marion, Indiana.
Q & A with Amy Peterson
Q: What are your two favorite hymns for worship?
A: My favorite hymns are “Be Thou My Vision” and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” I particularly love the lines
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
Q: What is your favorite worship service or part of the Book of Common Prayer?
A: I love Ash Wednesday’s reminder that we are dust. One of the first times I brought my kids to this service — when they were about 1 and 3 years old — I left them in the pew as I went forward for ashes. When I returned to the pew, my three year-old daughter said, “Mom, I want that,” and pointed to my forehead. Watching my firstborn request and receive the sign of her death in the shape of our hope is something I’ll never forget.
Q: What projects are you working on now?
A: I’m discerning a possible call to the priesthood, and about to begin a Masters of Divinity at Duke University, so most of my time is taken with preparing to leave my lovely Indiana home and trying to figure out how the next season of life will look. But I’m also in the final stages of edits on my second book Where Goodness Still Grows: Reclaiming Virtue in an Age of Hypocrisy (January 2020, W Publishing).
Q: Your essay is, in part, about being home and making home, even where and when you didn’t expect to. Christians are both not at home in this world and completely at home wherever we are, if we think of God as home and our call to be present with others as Jesus was present with us. Can you offer some thoughts about this dual reality (not at home and at home everywhere) from your perspective as someone who has lived all over the world and who has made a home where you are?
A: When I was younger, I gravitated towards certain metaphors for the Christian life: I liked to think of myself as a “stranger” and “sojourner” and “pilgrim,” for example, much more than I liked thinking of myself as a “bondservant.” I loved stories about God calling people to leave their homes, and when I moved to Southeast Asia to be a missionary after college, I thought of myself as one of those called-out ones.
But while living in Southeast Asia, I read the desert monks for the first time. St. Antony said that to please God, we should do three things:
“Whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it.”
In my first book, I describe how my understanding of the “pilgrim” metaphor began then to change:
As I read about these monks who stayed quietly in the same places, doing the same tasks and praying the same prayers for years and years, I began to wonder if my own definition of sojourner was missing something. Had I misunderstood this metaphor? Or worse, had I been using a false idea to excuse my own wanderlust, my desire for independence, and my fear of commitment?
When Peter wrote to the elect resident aliens scattered throughout the Roman provinces of Asia Minor, he was writing to Christians facing persecution: his description of them as sojourners and exiles, whether literal or metaphorical, was intended to help them understand how to live with patience and holiness as an oppressed minority in the empire. It was a reminder that Christians ought to live with “reverent fear” wherever we are, aware that our truest identity is as citizens of a different Kingdom.
But I’d been using the title sojourner to justify my rootlessness. I wasn’t persecuted or oppressed. I hadn’t been forced into exile. I was simply exercising my privilege and freedom to leave my home, safe with a passport to bring me back when I was ready. I was at the top, not the bottom, of the day’s empire economies. To claim that metaphor for my own was to discredit the very real persecution that originally undergirded it.
Here’s the thing I began to realize about my wanderlust: I was not an exile. I was not a mythic hero out to conquer a new frontier, finding freedom in the wild blue yonder. To put it plainly, I was discovering that restlessness is not always a virtue. For anyone to have a meaningful presence in the world, at some point the desire to go must transform into a desire to stay.
So I took the small steps that were the only things I knew to do to practice staying put. I named my kitten Éponine, after a tragic Victor Hugo character who lived on her own, and I figured out how to find food for her. I met the Thai exchange students who lived on the floor beneath me. I had a regular photocopy shop, where the owners made fun of me for using the wrong personal pronouns to address them, and a bakery I visited every day for loaves of French bread. I left my apartment door open so students would know they could come visit.
For the time being, I tried to remind myself that I wasn’t there to save the world or to indulge my independent spirit. I temporarily shelved any grand ideas about fixing structural injustices and instead practiced the small, daily, rooted tasks that are, after all, also a part of doing justice and loving mercy, those simple things the monks also practiced. I made it my ambition to lead a quiet life, and to lead that quiet life where I was, while trying to learn from the people around me. I aimed to become a student of their language and their culture, to find out what love looked like to them.
I was no longer a backpacker. I wasn’t an expat—at least, I was trying not to be. Instead, I was beginning to figure out what it means to be a neighbor.
I think sometimes God asks us to go, and sometimes God asks us to stay; and in either situation, I can find my home in Christ, and continue with the work of loving God and loving my neighbor.
Follow Amy on Twitter https://twitter.com/amylpeterson
Check out Amy’s first book: