(Brueggemann, p. 44) Paul reflected a long time on slavery and freedom. He did not think there are a lot of little slaveries, but that they are all of piece, and we can name them. He called them "elemental spirits": "We are enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world" (Galatians 4:3) and "If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?" (Colossians 2:20). This may sound primitive today because most people do not believe that way. But even if we are more sophisticated, we still know that the powers that coerce us are powerful and alive, and for some reason we are not free to lives our lives ward joy. We spend our time crying, satisfying others, measuring up, meeting quotas.
Brueggemann, p. 43: "For freedom, Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery...For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters" (Galatians 5:1, 13). Obviously, the freedom Paul discovered in the gospel was not an invitation to irresponsibility, nor was it a promise that there would be no more burdens or hardships. But now they are the responsibilities, burdens, and hardships of a free person, one not driven, but one facing options and having the power to choose the good news against all the bad forms of news that make promises that can never be kept. Slavery is many different things. Whatever the slavery that binds a person, that is the one that counts. Let us characterize slavery simply as that which keeps us from being joyous. When we locate that, we will be close to the source of our oppression.
Brueggemann, in Chapter 3, decides of all the implied meanings in shalom to focus first on freedom: Jesus Christ frees. God intends freedom. It is clear to us all that our biblical story—our biblical faith—begins in the story of the exodus. Taken historically, that story is about how a band of Israelites were freed one wondrous night long ago. Taken theologically, it is the announcement of how God’s purpose for freedom intruded radically into history and redesigned the direction of history. Now history becomes the story of how God’s purpose for freedom made its powerful way in the affairs of persons and nations. Exodus has given us a model to understand that the key problem in human experience is the problem of oppression, embodied here in the Pharaoh.
Shalom for "haves and "have-nots"—Shalom can mean many things. But what we take it to mean is not accidental. The way we define it makes sense in the context of our lives. We define the word and use it—as we do all words—as a bearer of peculiar meanings that match up with our needs, hopes, fears, and visions. People who live in the midst of precariousness shape their vocabulary and their faith, their perceptions and their liturgy, in a distinctive way. One of the most important ways the Israelites expressed their faith was around the theme of"cry out, hear, and deliver. These are the "have-nots." Their form of faith was to cry out. God's form of presence and graciousness was to hear their cry, be moved by it, and act of deliver them from the trouble in which they found themselves.
I step away this week from the peace book by Brueggemann to focus on the call to Dominican women and men to take risks for the sake of the Gospel. I serve on the Board of Trustees for The Village of St. Edward, a Catholic institution that provides nursing care, assisted living, independent living, and community services. At yesterday’s board meeting, the director of The Village addressed us about the changing scene of care giving as a result of what is happening with health care in general. He challenged us to be willing to take risks in order that our elderly population be given the best care that can be provided. His focus on risk taking reminded me the words of Simon Tugwell, OP, "The Order, if it is to be true to its calling, has always to be re-inventing itself.
The vision of shalom is so great that it would be nice to manage and control it - to know the formula that puts it at our disposal - either by a religion of piety or morality or by a technology that puts it on call (see Deuteronomy 18:9-14). But shalom is not subject to our best knowledge or our cleverest gimmicks. It comes only through the costly way of caring. Shalom is an enduring vision. It is promised persistently and hoped for always. But there are those occasions when it is an especially vital hope. One such time was during Israel’s exile. Among the eloquent spokesmen for the vision in that period was Jeremiah, who wrote to the exiles urging the validity of the vision even among displaced persons.
The vision of wholeness—total health and well-being—is the supreme will of our God and is the outgrowth of a covenant of shalom found in Ezekiel. "I will make a covenant of peace with them, and rid the country of ravenous beasts, that they may dwell securely in the desert and sleep in forests. I will place them about my hill, sending rain in due season, rains that shall be a blessing to them. The trees of the field shall bear their fruits, and the land its crops, and they shall dwell securely on their own soil" (Ezekiel 35: 24-27). In this covenant, persons are bound not only to God but to one another in a caring, sharing, rejoicing community with none to make them afraid. This shalom pertains to all creation. The prophets spoke of a world in which creation is reconciled and harmony appears between children and snakes, among all kinds of natural enemies.
In the early 2000's, Chalice Press published a series titled Understanding Biblical Themes. Biblical theologian Walter Brueggemann's book on peace is a part of that series. I will in the next few months offer on this blog excerpts from his book that we as Dominican Sisters of Peace may more understand the title we are attempting to live into. Through the Spirit, Jesus breathes on us and in us "peace that the world cannot give." In the preface of the book, highlights the sixties' and seventies' commitment to shalom, commenting that it was "on the romantic side and lacked a critical edge, a liberal propensity to think that if we all said well and we all did well, all would be well." He goes on to talk about prime texts of shalom: Psalm 85, vv. 9-13, Jeremiah 29:11-14, and Micah 5:2-5.