Say it out loud – go on! Feel the way it stretches your lips, your mouth, your jaw, and weigh its depth of meaning on your tongue.
It means peace.
Perhaps a case for onomatopoeia – its sound mimicking its meaning. The word opens your lips in the first syllable, breathing out a net of “Sha-“ before internalising, even ingesting the concept in the second syllable, “-lom”. Peace is outwards and inwards. It is a state of being; within yourself and beyond yourself to the interaction of people, organisations and nations.
Shalom is used as a greeting to this day by Jewish people, in place of ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’, communicating the orator’s desire for the recipient to experience harmony, completeness, prosperity and wellbeing in their life.
It is the external peace between two entities as well as the internal sense of peace experienced by an individual.
The 13th century Persian poet Rumi conjured it this way,
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”
When I think of that paddock, rolled out before me with its quilt of lush grass and the sky as blue as the deep, I can’t help but think of another poetic rendering of pasture.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.”
How distant from reality those peace-soaked places seem when war hems us in. The bloodthirsty war in the Middle East is one example, but I’m thinking of the less combative wars that rob our peace, mostly located in the craggy geography of the mind. There, we spar with hurt feelings, bruised pride, self-loathing and confusion. Social media – well, there’s a grisly battlefield too, and these toxic dumps spill their poison into the landscape of community.
Shalom is like fertiliser to community, encouraging life.
But the getting of peace – that deep, residing peace that takes root in the soul and spreads juicy shoots and runners for others to grasp hold of – is something of a mystery. Mysterious, because it costs nothing and doesn’t require any particular activity.
“May the Lord of Peace Himself give you His peace at all times and in every situation,” 2 Thessalonians 3:16 says. Jesus made peace between heaven and earth, between the created and the Creator. He bridged the chasm to eternity and he deposits that same glory into our hearts when we accept His invitation.
The wars will continue to rage around us, but here, peace.
“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10)
I’ve seen rainbows these past few weeks, everywhere, rainbows. And I’ve revisited the colourful sky-swathe’s origin in the Noah’s Ark story. Noah has come through a pretty hairy experience, riding a monumental boat with his family and animals (two by two) to escape a flood that covered the earth. When the waters subside and the coast is clear, Noah and his posse disembark and God makes a promise of peace.
“I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth… and all living creatures of every kind.” (Genesis 9:13)
Red and yellow and pink and green…
Purple and orange and blue…
That multicolour smear across the sky is a reminder of God’s peace pact with us, and what it cost him through his son Jesus. It doesn’t mean we won’t get hurt or that we won’t be expected to get our hands dirty. Just, come what may, peace. Peace despite everything. Peace that doesn’t depend upon aligned opinions, quiet well-mannered children and life obeying the itinerary.
Peace, because God put it there.
“…and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday July 6, 2015.
A LITTLE HEADS-UP:
I will be part of a panel discussion on the topic of ‘Media and Peace’ as part of Launceston’s Community Festival for Peace, Saturday at 3:30pm. You should come – it’s free! Click HERE for details and to register.