My Year of Peace: Shalom

Yesterday I heard many of my students and coworkers talking about what they were giving up for Lent. I appreciate the practice, and even though I am not Catholic, I have in the past given up certain foods or practices for Lent. This year, I want to try something a little different. I want to add something to enhance my spiritual life, mainly because I think God has been gently nudging me in this direction for some time now. I have decided to spend 15 minutes a day in meditation. It is a small thing really, but I think for me it will make a big difference especially as I pursue peace.

At our faculty retreat on Monday, one of my colleagues led a session on meditation. While it was not my first time to meditate, I did learn something interesting. All of the world's major religions practice meditation (although I must say that being raised as an evangelical Protestant, I was not really taught how to meditate ever). In meditation, one sits in total stillness and quiet, concentrating on breathing and focusing on one word or phrase (sometimes called a mantra). The mantra word is completely up to the person meditating, but in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the word shalom tends to be the most common.

Shalom is one of the few Hebrew words I am familiar with. I know that it means "peace" similar to the Arabic word salaam (which is where the word Islam also derives, despite erroneous assumptions about the nature of that particular religion). However, I also know that languages don't often translate so directly, so I decided to look up the word to learn more about its significant. It is probably now my new favorite word. In English, the word peace often refers to a feeling of calm or an absence of conflict, but when English Bibles translate the word shalom as peace, they are leaving out part of the meaning. Shalom does mean peace the same as in English, but it also means wholeness. As I understand it then, shalom is a state of being in which one is internally and spiritually whole, leading to internal and spiritual peace, which then helps us to transcend and heal the brokenness of the world around us. What a beautiful concept, especially for Lent, when Christians are reminded of our own brokenness.

So shalom is my new favorite word because if there is one thing I have learned through my journey towards peace, it is that peace begins within us and then expands to the world around us. This will be my mantra for the season of Lent, and it really is an excellent word to focus on during meditation because one of the purposes of meditation is to allow God's peace to fill us and make us whole (which sounds a lot like the word holy right). If Lent is meant to be a time to prepare us for our celebration of the Passion and Easter, I think it will be good for me to observe it by spending time each day realizing my own incompleteness and inviting God to fill me.

To make this even better, in Middle Eastern cultures, it is common to greet another person with the word shalom or salaam. What a great way to greet someone! You are basically telling them that you wish them healing, wholeness, and peace. It sure beats "What's up" or "Hey." So I bid you all shalom (or salaam if you prefer). May you find wholeness and peace each day in your own lives.

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