A Tribute to Hans Petersen

Former student Hans Petersen was killed in a fall from a roof while installing solar panels on April 7, 2010.

Finish then, thy new creation; pure and spotless let it be.
Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory till in heaven we take our place.
Till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise.

—Charles Wesley

If someone were to describe Hans Petersen as “lost,” that person would not likely be the first. For those who knew him, the word fits. Hans bumped around the planet. He lived here and there. He was a student at the seminary and then he was not. (Or was he?) He would appear out of nowhere. Then he wouldn’t. If you expected him, you’d have to wait. If you didn’t; there he’d be. Maybe he’s at work. Maybe he’s reading a book. He’s probably playing his guitar.

If it’s true that some people march to the beat of a different drummer, then Hans was dancing to his own personal orchestra.

And he was having a ball.

To the sort of person who likes to color within the lines, the free-lancing Hans should have been a major frustration. Somehow, he wasn’t. He was just Hans being Hans. And as gracefully as Hans took himself appearing 45 minutes late to a one hour meeting, you learned to take him.

Lost?

Perhaps. But only in wonder, love and praise.

Hans had the curiosity of a hundred cats. There was nothing that moved or whispered or lived that could escape his detection. He would get as engrossed in a misshaped Cheerio as he would in a conversation with the Dalai Lama. Incurably curious. “Look at this!” he’d say about a bug or flower. “Tell me more,” he would say to the person he just met or the friend on the other end of the line. In many ways he was like a kid who just landed on earth for the first time. Everything fascinated him. He couldn’t learn enough about whatever was in front of him. He was filled to the brim with wonder. He was wonderful.

And love. He was as lost in love as he was in wonder.

If you and I have 24 hours in a day, Hans had 43. He had all the time in the world. And he’d spend every minute with you if necessary, and come back the next day for more. He simply wasn’t anxious. Whatever time it took to be a neighbor or a friend; that was exactly how much time he had. Amazing. When it came to listening or helping or caring, there was no such thing as time to Hans.

Or quo.

You know that most human transactions involving love have a certain quid pro quo quality to them. This for that. I’ll give you this if you give me that. I’ll love you if you love me. If you don’stop that you’ll get none of this. It’s normal and usual and the way it is.

Not to Hans. Honestly, I doubt it ever occurred to him to wait for or hope for or expect any quo. He was too busy quidding.

Which brings us to “praise.”

If lighting up a room with a bright smile has any connection to praise, then Hans was lost in it. He was a gift. His innocent goodness flowed from him like wine at a wedding. He couldn’t help himself. He was just that kind of person.

So we got a glimpse of what Charles Wesley was writing about in the last verse of “Love Divine All Loves Excelling.” Hans gave us that glimpse. As pure and spotless as any person ever was.

And completely lost in wonder, love and praise.

Hans would have graduated this spring with his PLTS classmates, had he not been sidetracked by curiosity and his desire to work with his hands and his own personal timetable. If he was anxious about any of that, it was probably because he imagined that we were.

We weren’t.

We knew him. We knew he had his own life to live. And we could see that God was at work in him, teaching all of us something about wonder, love and praise.

We would have waited. We were waiting.

And we are deeply sad that this young man, so full of promise and wonder and love, won’t be dropping in on us anymore. We will miss him. And we grieve with you who miss him, too.

Hans Petersen