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Monday, August 27, 2012

A Sage and a Scholar

                                              Paul Peachey 1918-2012

I felt a special sadness when I saw Paul Peachey’s death notice in the Daily-News Record last week. Paul was 93 and in declining health, so this shouldn’t have come as a shock, but I experienced another one of those times I wished I had acted on my good intentions and visited someone once more before he died.

I had always admired Paul as a thoughtful writer and scholar but never gotten to know him personally until about a year ago when he invited me to his apartment at the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community to talk. I then came by to see him one additional time at VMRC’s Crestwood assisted living facility after his beloved Ellen passed away.

One of our common interests was the state of marriage and the family, both in the church and in society as a whole. I was especially interested in one of his most recent books, “Leaving and Clinging, the Human Significance of the Conjugal Union”. Here he makes the case that we humans are created to experience marital bonds that are even stronger than our blood family ties. Because of the universal taboo against incestuous relationships, we leave our parents and “cleave” to our spouse in order to form a united pair--for purposes of perpetuating the race and passing on our values and way of life.

I was especially intrigued by how this sign of divine wisdom results in each generation developing new ties with others, creating a network of societal bonds that would never happen if families procreated with their immediate kin. This means makes forming strong marital bonds extremely important for nurturing stable families. We can’t have the latter without stable forms of the former. *

What impressed me even more than Paul’s sharp mind and keen insights was the warmth and affirmation I felt from this man twenty years older than myself and who was far more educated and experienced than I. Paul had all the characteristics of an ideal mentor, and I could have benefited so much from learning to know him better. So I’m regretting how easily good opportunities like this are neglected in the busyness with which we find ourselves.

At Paul’s memorial service at Park View Mennonite Sunday afternoon his sons, daughters and grandchildren sang his praises and affirmed his positive influence on them. Pastor Phil Kniss reflected on Paul’s life as a “benediction,” a lived out expression of grace and blessing demonstrated throughout his long career as an international peace promoter for the Mennonite Central Committee, as a professor at The Catholic University of America, and finally as a founding member of the Rolling Ridge Retreat Community near Charles Town, West Virginia. He and his wife Ellen lived and worked at Rolling Ridge for 14 years prior to their moving back to Harrisonburg to retire.

May his good benedictions live long and well in all of us.

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* "Childhood is a covenanted apprenticeship under two biologically unrelated strangers, bound by a deliberate covenant. When these strangers, the parents, separate, the apprenticeship aborts. As a result, the child limps maimed into the covenanting stage of the life course. The traumatic impact of parental divorce now becomes understandable."                      (p. 94, Leaving and Clinging)
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