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.
In our Easter Scripture readings, we see clearly that the Gospel is preached and spread by a community of preachers. No one was in the preaching endeavor alone. One of my seminary students, James Kulway, speaks to this indirectly in his final reflection paper for our class. The way of God is not always perfectly clear, distinct, and obvious at first glance. God works and moves in our lives in profound and tremendous ways but such is the design of God that God's ways take interpretation, faith, understanding; it takes naming, and it most especially often takes another person. The preacher is this other person to name the ways of God, to tell how God is moving in our lives, to speak prophetically to the people of God. James, of course, was referring to a single preacher in a homiletic event. However, his words apply well to those of us called to witnessing the Gospel by our lives.
A few days ago, Akron's daily paper, The Beacon Journal, published an article on the percentage of people nationally who do not accept the truth of global warming and who discredit the authenticity of the Big Bang, among a few other recent findings. I couldn't help but think of the homiletics class that we had about a month ago on the disability of possessing "an arranged mind." After writing the words on the board (yes, I am old-fashioned and still resort to the green boards rather than the Smart boards), I asked the seminarians to define an arranged mind. At first, they responded with a mind that is orderly, that doesn't entertain frivolous thoughts, or that is compartmentalized. After waiting some seconds one student said a mind that is set in its truths and refuses to admit anything too weirdly new.
Last Wednesday, my seminary students composed and preached homilies for the Easter Vigil. Andrew Hoover began his homily with these words, "The proof of the truth of Christianity is found in the ministry and lives of the apostles after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Nowhere else in the course of history has such a rag-tag group along with the other men and women who followed Jesus, led such a widespread population of people to a new way of life, and so quickly, as they set the word ablaze with the fire of the Lord’s teachings. What is even more remarkable is how clueless the apostles were initially." That last line caught me up short. These early followers of Jesus were clueless. They totally misunderstood Jesus' mission all the way up to and including the passion.
As mentioned before, I often learn from my students. Last week, Eric Garris preached a postil on the reading concerning the three young men in the fiery furnace. He was drawn by the courage of these three young men who just might have been around his own age. He pondered deeply their courage, he told us, and wondered if he faced a great ordeal, if he could stand strong. It was evident that he was greatly touched by this Scripture passage. I share a selection from his brief preaching that caught my attention: