SHALOM – EIRENE – PEACE NOT just a noun! Peace is a verb!

Once upon a time, there lived a very wise Queen who ruled over a large powerful country. The wise Queen was always doing things to teach her people to live in peace. One day the wise Queen announced that there would be a contest to see who could create the most beautiful painting which portrayed peace. Many great painters from all over the world sent the Queen their paintings.

One of the many paintings was a masterpiece which depicted a magnificent calm lake, which perfectly mirroring peacefully towering snow-capped mountains. Above the mountains was a clear blue sky with just a few fluffy clouds. The picture was perfect. Almost everyone who saw the painting was convinced that it was the best portrayal of peace, and it was sure to be chosen by the wise Queen as the winner. However, when the Queen announced the winner, everyone was shocked. The painting which won the prize had mountains as well. But they were rugged and bare. The sky looked very angry, and lightening streaked through the ominous clouds. This scene did not look at all peaceful. It looked like the artist had made a mistake and painted a viscous storm instead of peace. But if anyone bothered to look closely at the painting, they would see a tiny bush growing in the cracks of the rugged mountain rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. In the midst of the rush of an angry storm, the bird sat calmly on her nest. The wise Queen understood that peace is born in places where you would least expect it. Peace is born in the midst of all the chaos. Peace calms the troubled heart. Peace, real peace is also a state of mind, a way of being, a way of doing which breaks out amid turmoil.

A mother bird’s calm, despite her chaotic, dangerous surroundings is the embodiment of peace.  Calmly, lovingly, caring for those around us in the midst of chaotic, tumultuous, times, despite the dangers, or the apparent hopelessness, to love without fear is a way of being in the world that breaks out in the strangest of places. Peace is a way of being, a way of doing in a world which all too often, appears to be bereft of the possibility of peace.

SHALOM, a Hebrew word and EIRENE a Greek word, both of which we generally translate as peace. Well, our modern understanding of peace often begins and ends with seeing the word PEACE simply as a noun. But both our Hebrew and our Greek ancestors understood SHALOM and EIRENE as both a noun and perhaps more importantly as a verb. Sadly, we all too often read the word “peace” only as a noun describing the absence of conflict, war, violence, trouble, or unease.

While the word SHALOM as a noun does indeed refer to the absence of these things, it also refers to the presence of completeness, or wholeness. SHALOM and EIRENE are not just nouns, they are also verbs. In Hebrew, SHALOM is understood as the verb “to make complete,” “to repair” or “to restore,” or “to make whole.”

Our ancestors understood that life is complex. Life is a multitude of complexities, relationships, and situations. When something is out of alinement or missing, our SHALOM breaks down. When warring parties or nations are out of alinement, and war breaks out, peace is made not just by refraining from violence but by attending to what is missing in the relationships, attending to the well-being of one another, and working together for one another’s benefit. That means for the benefit of people who were once our enemies.  

When the anonymous gospel-storytellers who heralded the birth of Jesus as EIRENE, they did so because Jesus’ followers saw Jesus as the restorer of wholeness, because he brought PEACE not only among the nations, tribes, and families, Jesus brought PEACE with the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, the ONE who dwells in, with, through, and beyond us all. Jesus said,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace. Do not let your hearts be distressed; do not be fearful.”

If you listen to the news or tune into the media of any kind, you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. We all know that there is no peace in Afghanistan, which although it dominates the news, it is just one of many nations which has no peace. We also know that our profit driven greed and self-centeredness is at war with the Earth. The only planet we have. The ravages of climate change versus the almighty dollar and our reluctance to repair and restore, to make whole our relationship to the Earth, are writ large across our news screens.

As followers of Jesus, we are called “to peace,” which is to repair, to restore, to complete, to make whole. To peace, it is a daunting task. But the restoration, the completeness, the PEACE we long for requires us to understand PEACE as more than just a noun describing a state of being. SHALOM, EIRENE, PEACE, needs us to embody these words as verbs, by restoring, bringing, making SHALOM, making EIRENE, making PEACE. But in our own state of incompleteness, in the absence of SHALOM in our being, we are afraid. Afraid of putting ourselves on the line. Afraid to follow Jesus into our Jerusalems. Afraid to trust our own power to resist. Afraid to say no to our overlords. Afraid to abandon the powers empire. Afraid to risk what’s ours. Afraid of the storms which rage all around us. Afraid of trusting the PEACE which is within each of us. Afraid to put our faith in a God who IS LOVE. We are afraid of the unfamiliar. We know the contours of commerce, with its violence and unfettered greed. We’ve grown accustomed to the suffering. We trust the untrustworthiness of the powerful. We learned to live with the evils of our systems. Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t know. And yet, the image of that mother bird tending her nest among the rocks and ravages of the storm continues to compel us. The promise of peace breaking out in our chaos, the desire for wholeness continues to allure us. Jesus’ commandment to: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”  continues to inspire us.

The PEACE you have left us with dear Jesus, may not be the kind of peace the world gives, but surely it is the kind of peace which calms all fear? “Do not let your hearts be distressed; do not be fearful.” SHALOM the kind of PEACE which surpasses our understanding breaks out when together we find the courage to set aside all fear. Jesus said, “Those who love me will be true to my word, and Abba God will love them; and we will come to them and make our dwelling place with them.” Come oh GOD who IS LOVE. Dwell with us, in us, through us, and beyond us. Let the hopes and dreams of our ancestors move in, with, and through us. Do not let our hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid. Let peace break out in the most unlikely of places. Let us begin by recognizing the PEACE which lies within. Paying attention to this gift of PEACE within us empowers us to love our enemies by tending to their well-being, so that friend and foe alike can be restored, made complete, and made whole. Let the PEACE which lives within us empower us to be peacemakers, doers of peace, bringers of peace, lovers of peace, restorers of wholeness. SHALOM, EIRENE, PEACE, in the name and for the sake of the ONE who IS our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself.  Amen.

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DABHAR the ISNESS of DIVINITY the CREATIVE ENERGY of WORD and DEED

Sometimes, we must let go of words in order to move beyond words, so that we might understand the MYSTERY which is sometimes called “God” and sometimes called “the WORD”. Letting go of words is not easy for someone like me. Years ago, I decided that in order to understand God, I needed to learn how to meditate. It didn’t go very well. I remember talking to a good friend of mine about the trouble I was having learning to meditate. Bryan had travelled all over the Far East and was an avid practitioner of transcendental meditation. He sympathized with my dilemma and suggested that perhaps my spiritual quest would need to be one which entailed letting go of words so that I could move beyond words. I remember being dumbfounded by the idea of ever being able to let go of words. But Bryan insisted that unless I moved beyond words, I’d remain frustrated by my attempts to learn any form of meditation.

I confessed that I had absolutely no idea where to begin. Bryan said that my basic problem was wrapped up in the weakness of my right mind. Before I could take offence, Bryan went on to explain that I was primarily a left-brain kind of gal. Bryan insisted that I needed to learn to develop the right hemisphere of my brain. Even though I was familiar with the theories about right brain verses left brain, I had absolutely no idea about how to go about changing what I thought was the unchangeable reality that my left brain, which is the area responsible for verbal and cognitive skills, is the hemisphere that I tend to rely on rather than the right brain, wherein lies the artistic, playful side of my nature. I like words. I like the way words sound. I like the way the way words look. I like the meanings of words and I love the history of words. I love putting words together. I’m called to a profession which is all about words. So, asking me to move beyond words is like asking me to give up my lifeblood. But Bryan was determined to move me beyond words. So, he made me promise to meet him at his workplace the very next day.

Bryan is a pilot, a helicopter pilot. Bryan also knows that I’m afraid of heights and although I’ve conquered my fear of flying, I’m rather partial to fix-wing aircraft. Helicopters make me more than nervous; helicopters terrify me. Most of my fear of helicopters is Bryan’s fault. While Bryan was studying to be a pilot, he would share with me some of his newfound knowledge about helicopters. One thing stood out for me: helicopters are unreliable. The best mechanic can safety-check a helicopter and certify that it is perfectly safe to take off and still the helicopter can malfunction and cause the pilot to have to land immediately. So, I was not too crazy about meeting Bryan at work. But who am I to argue with a guy who was determined to develop my right brain?

That’s how I found myself hovering over the mountains of North Vancouver in a small helicopter which for some reason, I could not understand, had no doors. I was strapped in, and Bryan assured me that there was no way that I could fall out. But there was something about all that fresh air swirling about which made the clouds seem a little too close for comfort. So, I held on for dear life as Bryan headed North towards Garibaldi Mountain. As Garibaldi slipped out of view followed by Blackcomb, and Whistler mountains, the sheer beauty of all that lay before me, filled me with such awe that my mind struggled to comprehend the splendour my eyes beheld. This of course was my left-brain on overdrive struggling to find words to describe the experience of my senses. 

It wasn’t until I heard Bryan’s noisy voice through the crackly headset that I realized that rather than moving beyond words, my mind was flooded with words. I asked Bryan where we were going, and he pointed to a place on the northern horizon and told me that we were going to put down on the side of a mountain in a place which he knew, I would absolutely love. As we’d long since passed the boundaries of my ability to recognize the mountains by their shape, I turned to the map of the Bastion Range, but I could not read our location. Bryan motioned to a point in the distance and indicated that it would be there that he would land the helicopter. As we hovered over the spot, I wondered how he’d manage to land, when through the headset Bryan explained it was too dangerous to actually land.  Bryan would hover inches from the ground and if I was willing to go where few humans had ever gone before, I would step out of the chopper and huddle down on the ground as Bryan swooped back up into the air out of sight, so that I could be alone in a place where Bryan was sure I’d find no words but one.

I was relieved that Bryan had not explained all this while we were still on terra firma because I would never have agreed to this particular journey. But out there, up there, the appeal of the Alpine meadow perched on a mountainside was more than I could resist. Nevertheless, as the ground approached, I became convinced that I was about to die. But I was much younger then and far more reckless, so in seconds, I was hugging the Earth and feeling the whoosh of the chopper as Bryan climbed out of the way without me. I knew that he’d be back in about 5 minutes, but as the sound of the helicopter disappeared, it was replaced by the roar of a silence, a silence I had never heard before. I stood up in time to see Bryan disappear behind the summit and discovered that I was quite literally on top of the world.  

I’ve rarely tried to put into words what happened next. I resisted doing so for years.  I think out of some sort of belief that in trying to put it into words, I would rob it of its, its what, its what, that’s just it, I don’t know what……Well I do know, I just don’t know how to say it with words.

Standing there looking out at what seemed like all of Creation right there before me. Looking down at the vast valley below and up to the summit above, I could almost reach out and touch the top of the mountain. Blanketed by a sky, which I was convinced I could walk out upon, because so much of it appeared to be below me and not above, my senses were overwhelmed. I was alone and yet I knew I was not alone. I’d like to say that I was conscious of a presence but that’s not really how it was. Words cannot do it justice. I was surrounded by it. Not “it” really but “is”.

“Is” is about as close as I can come to describing it. I was in the presence of, or surrounded by, or overwhelmed by, or upheld by, or embraced by, or touched by, caressed by, or loved by ISNESS. Somehow, I knew that this ISNESS was the ONE I had been longing for, the ONE I was trying to learn to meditate for, the ONE I desired to know, the ONE who all those years ago, I called, “GOD”. But even then, I knew that, GOD is too small a word to describe the ISNESS. But there in the presence of all that IS, I had no need to describe IS.  It was enough to simply be. All words, and thoughts slipped away, and it was enough to just be. To be in the presence of the SOURCE of all that IS. Continue reading

We Are ONE!

Here we are again. How did we end up here again? As I listened to a politician, his head adorned in a neatly wrapped Sikh pagri, insist that “this is our Canada!” my own heart sank. For I too, have spoken my own objections, along the lines of: “This is not our Canada.” As my head fell in shame, this politician used these words: “The reality is, this is our Canada. This is our Canada!  Our Canada is a place where 215 little kids were found dead in an unmarked grave. Our Canada is a place where you can’t walk down the streets if you wear a hajib because you will be killed. This is our Canada. We can’t deny it. We can’t reject that because it does no one any good. The reality is our Canada is a place of racism, of violence, of genocide of indigenous peoples, and our Canada is a place where Muslims aren’t safe. They aren’t safe,” he said. “They aren’t safe. Muslims are not safe in this country.”[1]  Whether you agree with his politics or not, Jagmeet Singh’s indictment begs the question: How did we get here? Why are the seeds of racism and hatred flourishing in our land, and in the lands of our neighbours? The stark realities are clear, even if the sources of the infestation remain hidden, buried beneath our carefully held illusions of our own innocence.

They were out for their daily, evening stroll. A close loving family, coping with lockdown, by strolling the streets of their own neighbourhood. Taking in the sights.  Reviewing their day. Telling their stories. Anticipating tomorrow and the tomorrows after that. He, he is a deranged young man whose mental illness is fertile ground for the seeds of hatred scattered across our land, growing within our communities such noxious weeds, that our efforts to root them out fail over and over again.

We can no longer deny that the seeds of racism and hatred are growing at a pace which threatens to choke our long-ago dreams of a multicultural paradise. We dreamed that dream.  We spoke pretty words. We invited newcomers into our land. We planted our seeds and we hoped for the best. But we failed somehow, not enough water? not the right fertilizers? or perhaps, too much neglect, and indifference?

As you can probably tell from my hack-handed metaphors, I’m not much of a gardener. Like many of my fellow Canadians, I’ve smugly looked askance at the racial turmoil in our American neighbours’ land, and I haven’t paid enough attention to what’s happening in my own backyard. I am, however, a theologian and a student of religions. I know that the very word Islam translates into English as peace and that the Qur’an teaches that “PEACE” is one of the names of ALLAH.  I know that our indigenous sisters and brothers teach that all people should live in harmony with the nature and all that nature contains. I know that our Jewish sisters and brothers gifted us with the commandment to “love our neighbours as we love ourselves.” I know that Sikh communities hold values which extol an egalitarian vision of community in which men and women, and members of all social groups are equally respected. I know that our Hindu sisters and brothers hold dear the doctrine of ahimsa, which means to foster respect for all living things and includes the practice of non-violence. I also know that our sisters and brothers of no particular faith at all, understand the values of living without fear, in lands where all people are free to live peacefully.

So, why are the seeds of racism, and hatred flourishing in so many lands? Especially, when so many splendid gardeners have planted so many good seeds upon the land? I may not be much of a gardener, but one thing I have learned, is speed with which weeds can grow to make a mess of any garden. Fear and our self-centered quest for survival are spreading unchecked within us and around us. Fear of the “other,” fear that “they” “those people” are somehow a threat to “us,” a threat to “our ways,” a threat to “our lifestyles,” our very survival, these fear as irrational as it has become, this fear is fertilizing the seeds of racism and hatred which are growing like weeds.

So, if “this is our Canada” what are we to do? The Qur’an teaches us that our CREATOR created us all “out of one single soul, created, out of like nature, the mate, and from them twain scattered like seeds countless men and women.”[2]

In the Qur’an you will find these words: “O humanity! Indeed, WE created you from a male and a female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may ˹get to˺ know one another. Surely the most noble of you in the sight of ALLAH is the most righteous among you. ALLAH is truly ALL-KNOWING, ALL-AWARE.”[3]

The Christian mystic Julian of Norwich provides a way of seeing our sisters and brothers of all faiths and of no particular faith at all, Julian insists that, “we are not just made by God, we are made of God.” The very nature of the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call God, is in the DNA of all.  We are all sacred, all holy, all DIVINE, created as ONE by the ONE in whom we all live, and move, and have our being. When we begin to see the DIVINE MYSTERY, which is the LOVE we call God, in ALL, we need not fear “the other” for we are ONE in the LOVE which made us.

I can already hear some of you ask, “That’s all well and good, but what are we to do to? How do we tend to this blessed garden?”  There are weeds growing everywhere and fear is on the rise. I do wish I was a better gardener. All I can say is that LOVE casts out fear and if we can eliminate the fear, then the noxious weeds of racism and hatred will wither and die.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, what does this LOVE look like, how do we apply this LOVE to our beloved garden? Well, dear ones, I suspect that some of our gardening skills have lain dormant for far too long. It is long past time for us to be LOVE in the world. The next time you see a woman wearing the hijab or a man wearing a turban, put yourself in their place and ask yourself, what you would want if you were them. This is what it means to love your neighbour as you love yourself.

A smile, I know it’s difficult right now to smile when we are wearing masks, so smile with your eyes and say, “Hello. Good to see you!”  or “Salaam Alaikum.” If you don’t have friends from different religions and cultures, ask yourself why and begin to make some overtures to strangers. Put yourself outside your own comfort zone. Take some risks. Make some mistakes. Learn new ways of being human from humans who do things differently that you do. Take a course in another religious tradition. Make a friend. Be a friend. Commit outrageous acts of kindness. Be recklessly hospitable.

Foolishly generous. Listen and learn. Stand in solidarity. Grieve with those who are grieving. Try to understand the pain of those who have been wounded. Give up some of your privilege, lord knows, most of us have way more than our fair share. Be LOVE in the world by planting some seeds and then tending those seeds and watching them grow.

Jesus compared the Kin’dom of DIVINITY, the Family of the DIVINE to “a mustard seed, which people plant in the soil: it is the smallest of the Earth’s seeds, yet once it is sown, it springs up to become the largest of shrubs, with branches big enough for the birds of the sky to build nests in the shade.”

A little boy is lying in a hospital bed, and he is in pain. Let us plant seeds and tend this garden in Fayez’s name, trusting that we are ALL ONE, ONE in the LOVE, which is our CREATOR, ONE in the LOVE which is the MYSTERY we call God. Amen.

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[1] Jagmeet Singh, House of Parliament, June 8, 2021

[2] Qur’an 4:1

[3] Qu’ran 49:13  Dr. Mustafa Khattab, the Clear Quran