The concept of 'shalom' is more than just one thing
March 08, 2023
At my congregation, our pastors rarely rely on the lectionary to choose biblical passages on which to base their sermons. Rather, they do various sermon series on a particular topic. Our current topic is the idea of "shalom," or peace and peacemaking.
Shalom is a Hebrew word that gets translated into English often as simply "peace," though shalom is deeper and more nuanced than that. A form of the word makes up part of the name of the city of Jerusalem. As this site notes, "Jeru-Salem means 'possession of peace' or 'foundation of peace.'”
Shalom, or peace, can mean many things, of course, from a lack of war to a personal feeling of contentment. But I thought Rabbi Mark Levin expressed really well what shalom has meant recently to him as he recovers from some surgery. (Mark is the founding rabbi of Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park, Kan.)
Here's some of what he wrote recently on his CaringBridge page:
"This morning I awoke with no sensation of pain anywhere in my body for the first time in months. I had forgotten the feeling. To simply enjoy one's physical existence, to awaken to the exultation of the blessing of complete health, I experienced as such a gift. I knew as soon as I moved I'd feel pain. So I lay in bed, next to my beloved wife and caretaker, just reveling in complete peacefulness, at least for myself.
"This feeling of shalom, complete wholeness, of course, we can never appreciate until it's gone, hopefully to eventually return. As a younger person I never awoke with complete gratitude simply to give thanks to God. It never occurred to me that anything would ever be different. Wasn't I just experiencing God's plan for us all, the natural state of being, complete health, all bodily systems set to 'go?'
"Now I understand how much I missed. Others never awaken with that extraordinary blessing, for one reason or another. Others, like my sister, lost it at an early age, never to return. But here I am at 74 and can still experience the blessing of a pain-free body, at least for a short amount of time.
"Once I decided to move, of course, physical pain returned as expected, but every day different blessings arrive, hoped for but unanticipated in that each day is a new recovery. Painful movement improves the next moment for the better. Pain pills reduce the quantity and duration of the pain. A thoughtful inquiry about my well-being bolsters not only my spirit but my actual equanimity: the spiritual and physical intermingle somehow, beyond my comprehension. . .
"So one week after surgery I have sat up all day so far. I have enjoyed moments remembering visits, caring thoughts shared, my children's smiles. Turns out, there's more to wholeness than physical health. In genuine sharing, beyond physical comfort, there's 'nachat ruach,' spiritual contentment, that provides a blessing resulting from genuine and authentic caring given and received. . .
"(P)hysical wholeness is temporary. But spiritual wholeness through actual acts of love raises us to a higher level of joy, feeling the shalom of a love in partnership and friendship that exults beyond words."
So in this period when the three Abrahamic faiths observe Passover, Lent or Ramadan, may shalom find all of us.
(The photo here today is one I took a few years ago in Jerusalem. I think that's the dove of peace looking -- so far unsuccessfully -- for a safe place to land.)
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ARE RELIGIOUS LEADERS MORAL FAILURES?
Are religious leaders moral individuals? That's the question asked in a recent poll that also included other occupations. Religious leaders came in fifth, behind doctors, teachers, therapists and scientists. As the Good Faith Media story to which I've linked you reports, "Just over half (53%) says religious leaders are very (18%) or somewhat (35%) moral, while 30% feel religious leaders are very (12%) or somewhat (18%) immoral. The remaining 17% are unsure." Looks like folks with a religious title in front of their names have some work to do.
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THE BOOK CORNER
The Book of Nature: The Astonishing Beauty of God's First Sacred Text, by Barbara Mahany. The author of this lovely new book (to be published March 21 but available for order now) has written important and beautiful words for The Chicago Tribune for decades. In this new book, she describes the natural world around us as scripture to be read with care. But it takes commitment and time to read and be awed by what she calls the book of nature. Mahany is a Catholic woman married to a Jewish man. It turns out that a rabbi introduced her to the concept of nature as holy scripture. Just what is the book of nature? It is, she writes, "the one sacred text that needs no translation; it's unfurled without words, composed in an alphabet of seashell and moonbeam, the flight of the birds and even the plundering of nests."
Paying attention -- or being mindful, as Buddhists would put it -- is a prerequisite for an accurate and useful reading of the book of nature, she says. But beyond that, it points to nature's author: ". . .I am attuned and on high alert to the filigree and bedazzlement of the author of it all, the one who paints the dawn in tourmaline streaks and salts the night sky in chalky, sometimes brilliant, flecks, the one who thought to quench the thirst of the migrating butterfly with mists of fog and remembered that baby birds might do well to memorize the star-stitched tracings far, far above the nursery that is the nest."
Mahany draws from many sources, including wisdom from the Indigenous peoples who occupied this land before European invaders unleashed physical and cultural genocide on them. So she recognizes the Indigenous idea that they belong to the land, which contrasts with the imported idea that the land can belong to people. And, in the end, she pleads for environmental sense to save the book of nature from human destruction: "The sobering spine-stiffening truth is that, as a people, we've abandoned our watch on this one holy earth, and the losses are dire: personal, political and, in the end, always sacred."