“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” ~Mother Teresa
Peace is a commodity short in supply, but great in demand. My long held understanding of it was challenged standing near a dying woman. We had gathered in the bedroom of the frail and fading parishioner because that’s what church does best. Ours is what many might term a “house church,” although we assemble most often in the recording studio owned by one of our members. I prefer the term “portable church,” because we frequently gather in other locations, depending on the needs of our congregants at any given point in time. We meet wherever we are needed most. Church, by definition, is intended to be incarnational. This particular Sunday evening found some of us standing and others seated near Laura who had been slipping away for more than a year and was now about to cross over. We intoned hymns and choruses of grace and love and life on the other side. We laughed and sang through moistened eyes and damp cheeks. Then I stood, placed my hand on Laura’s unresponsive ones, and prayed for peace. Instead of seeking the absence of anything, we pleaded for the Creator and Lord of life to invade our presence with His own.
We are acquainted with the Western version that peace is the absence of conflict, but the biblical portrayal is quite different. Shalom is the Hebrew word. In English, the word “peace” conjures up a passive picture, one revealing an absence of civil disturbance or hostilities, or a personality free from internal and external strife. The biblical concept of peace is larger than that and means “to be complete” or “to be sound.” Instead of something vacating, it is an ushering in of something greater, more desireable. The noun had many nuances, but can be grouped into four categories: shalom as wholeness of life or body (i.e., health); as right relationship or harmony between two parties or people, often established by a covenant; prosperity, success, or fulfillment; and victory over one’s enemies resulting in the cessation of conflict. Shalom was used in both greetings and farewells and was meant to act as a blessing on the one to whom it was spoken: “May your life be filled with health, prosperity, and victory.” I have good friends who have named their Kenyan residence “Pa Amani,” which literally translates as “Place of Peace.” Amani is Swahili for the Hebrew concept of shalom. The word is of Arabic origin, relating primarily to the concept of desire and aspiration; the act of coming together in harmony. Both shalom and Amani mean much more than the cessation of violence and hostility.
Jesus said: “Peace I give you. Peace I leave with you. Let not your hearts be troubled…” (John 14)
There is a considerable difference between peace and a truce. Peace is the deepest desire and need of the human heart, but usually enters as the result of great effort and even conflict. We will never know peace until we comprehend Peace as verb rather than noun. It acts, rather than receives action. Shalom is not the absence of something, but is instead its preferred replacement. Peace is not absence of fear, conflict, violence, anxiety, etc. It is the presence of someone who brings with her or him positive reinforcements–confidence, joy, resolution, love. Jesus declared as blessed those he termed “peace-makers.” Peace is not rhetoric, shalom pushes to the forefront of unrest as we actively seek to better those around us. To be a peacemaker is to “live not with hands clenched to grasp, to strike, to hold tight to a life that is always slipping away the more tightly we hold it, but . . . to live with the hands stretched out both to give and receive with gladness” (Frederick Buechner). Peace never happens on its own.