What does it mean?

Shalom. An ancient Hebrew word that has flitted in and out of my life since my awareness of it came about in 1983. At the time I was working for a company that imported irrigation parts, mostly from Israel. Many were the telex's (precursor to fax!) and phone calls that began and ended with a sincere "Shalom!" This was reenforced by my visit to the Holy Land for the same business; everywhere, "Shalom." Having been told that it meant "Peace", it made me feel like back in the hippy 70's (me?) when those of us in the "counterculture" greeted and parted with "Peace."  Little did I realize that there was so much more to this traditional Jewish greeting!

Fast forward to 1998:  It was the Christmas Eve service at St. John's Episcopal Church here in Denver. The topic of the brief sermon concerned itself with the birth of Jesus and his role in our own personal Shalom. I was rapt as the priest unfolded the idea of shalom as being much more than peace, meaning in the least, lack of war, and in the greater, embracing as he explained it, "well being."

Of course! It is "Shalom" that God promises us when we seek her. It is "Shalom" that Jesus promises us by following in his way! One respected source gave three parts of shalom, roughly: Material prosperity, a "working for just....relationships", and, "working to remove deceit and hypocrisy (p.160)." While these are certainly to be included in a definition, nowhere do I see a sense of well being beyond the "material prosperity." My sense of Shalom is a state of being, a very good state to be in. Where is balance? Harmony? Connectedness? Loving life, seizing the day, feeling God and/or Jesus working within our minutes?  And to get to a goal, we must have a path and maps. In this, I found Dr. Larry Graham's ("Care of Persons, Care of Worlds") ideas expansive and thoughtful. I am very pleased that our home, the earth, has started being included as deserving of justice since the ecological movement started down the track some twenty years ago. As a kid who loved the eastern woods and meadows and all the toys they offered a young boy, I was appalled even then by what I saw as selfish and destructive deeds.

But is it shalom when we are attempting to change our views, our world, ourselves for the wholeness and unity that we strive for? Or is shalom still to be attained? Is it a noun or a verb? The Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling (Abingdon Press, 1990) offers a perspective. Looking up Shalom, one is directed to Mediation/Concilliation, certainly processes, not status. OK, let's turn to interpreted Hebrew. Is an answer in the Bible? Since I am not a Hebrew language scholar, I must work somewhat backwards with my NIV Exhaustive Concordance. Looking up "Peace", I find that the most frequent use of the word in the Old Testament is, indeed, our subject Shalom, found 236 times. But how was/is it used? My concordance lists 68 ways that the word was used! I found some of my notions - well being, harmony, safety, soundness - and many verbs! Does not "come in peace", used five times, offer a parallel to Dr. Graham's "working for" and "working to"? "Grow well"? "Friendly relations"?

My understanding was never wrong, it just was not complete!

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