Advent: Aching for Peace

Yesterday at church, mid-sermon, great flakes of snow fell from the sky, as though God were dropping a fresh supply of winter manna. The school auditorium where we meet boasts three grand, 8-foot high windows, always opening to us a vision of oaks and leaves and neighbors. Those windows are, for me, the very best part about our space. They remind us that, as we worship, God’s world ‘out there’ is wholly connected to God’s world ‘in here.’ Our kind, patient folks put up with my dawdling sermon, doing their darnedest to listen while white beauty swirled around us. A wiser pastor would have just stopped and had us all take a gaze at this first storm of the season and then offered an Amen

However, this was the Sunday of peace, and lighting the candle, we prayed that God’s disruptive, healing peace might come to us again. Peace – it seems such a pipe dream these days, and it’s a word (like so many good words) that we now feel compelled to clarify and apologize for, to properly signal what we’re saying and what we’re not saying. But here’s where I am: I’m aching for peace.

To be sure, I’m not angling for anything easy or contrived or oblivious – that’s not peace; that’s avoidance. But I do want an end to relational hostility. I do want the hungry fed and the oppressed to be free. I do want enemies to become friends, or at least not to hate one another.  I do want that inner quiet that marks the way of wisdom: the capacity to live in tensions, the courage to refuse the rage of the moment, the open-heartedness that allows us to be surprised, the tenacity to never lose hope.    

So after a cozy winter’s nap, enveloped by the heat pouring out of our clicking, humming radiators, Seth and I returned to what has become our ritual. We pulled on our snow pants and gloves and toboggan caps and went for a walk into the dark, frigid night. We tell Wyatt and Miska that we must brave the cold because we’re on the hunt for grub. However, walking these lonely streets as the world sits enchanted by stillness, and with only the sound of snow crunching under our boots and the conversation passing between us, I think we’re actually out in the silent night searching for peace. 

Shalom. Now and Always.

Countryside Milky Way

In John’s gospel, each time Jesus encounters his friends and disciples during the wild days immediately after his resurrection, he pronounces a new reality, a blessing: Peace to you. Jesus does not speak these words in tepid piety, clinging desperately to a hope that peace might one day arrive. Rather, Jesus stands bold and strong, a Man drenched in victory. When you have descended into the depths of Hades and delivered a piercing, fatal blow to death itself, I suppose you are done with the niceties, disinterested in vague spiritual platitudes. You must speak the unadorned truth. Peace.

For us, the word peace can carry too docile a tone. As you know, peace emerges from the Hebrew word shalom which evokes well-being, an end of hostilities, the world made right. Shalom does not suggest (for it would be insanity if it did) that there is no such thing as violence, isolation, relational rubble, economic devastation or systemic injustice. Rather, shalom (whenever declared by Jesus and enacted by Jesus’ community through the Spirit) announces that the order of the world, because of Jesus’ Triumph, has met its match.

In those first post-resurrection days, Jesus did not suggest to the disciples that their life, hard-scrabble as it was, would soon all turn up tulips and lilies. Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to cling to him, surely inflicting confusion and anxiety. Soon enough, Jesus’ teaching about the persecution and hardships his followers would endure became the disciples’ reality. Yet Jesus declared shalom. Shalom in the midst of (not escape from) the world as it actually was, in desperate need of God’s transformation.

Shalom does not mean we deny all that lies shattered around us. Neither does it mean we escape into some internal privatized spirituality, not knowing how else to make sense of the harsh discontinuity between God’s shalom and our ruins. Rather, shalom means that God stands bold and strong in the dead center of our weary lives and speaks the reality – that God is with us, that God will not leave us, that one day the story will come to God’s good end.

Shalom means we can join with St. Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

Shalom-maker {a hillside sermon}


Blessings on the shalom-makers. {Jesus}

Over and again, Jesus passed this blessing: Peace to you. In our church, like most round the world, we pass these same words one to another each Sunday. It’s good to spy out a lonely soul or someone who’s heavy with care – grab their hand, look them in the eye and remind them that peace is theirs, right then, right there.

Of course, peace is a word with heritage. Shalom was the older Jewish greeting; but the two words mean the same thing: Wholeness. Well-being. Renewal. To speak shalom is to announce grace everywhere, on everyone. A shalom-maker is one who insists on goodness. They insist. Shalom-makers aren’t pining for a utopian dream. They see the world as it is, all shot to hell. No delusion. They see the ruin, but they insist on goodness all the same.

And Jesus says a blessing on the shalom-maker. God knows they need it. Shalom-makers need this word of joy, spending so much time as they do soaking in grim places. Left alone, that darkness will crush a soul. Sadly, shalom-makers are no strangers to aloneness. Shalom-makers eventually tick everybody off because they don’t stick to one side. They aren’t beholden to a party line. They’re committed to shalom, not ideology. They refuse the temptation to create scapegoats and release the vitriol that feels so righteous in the moment but always de-humanizes the one in its crosshairs. They’re about goodness, and if you want goodness only for yourself … well, then a shalom-maker is going to be a royal pain in your tush.

There’s another reason (among hundreds) these weary but hopeful souls need a blessing. Notice they’re shalom-makers, not shalom-guilters. A true person of shalom rolls up their sleeves and digs into the hard work of love. They invite others to their work, but they don’t bludgeon others to their cause. That’s not shalom; that’s manipulation. And it’s a difficult thing to be gentle among wolves. Blessings on them.