Shaped for Shalom
Many of us are active in responses to the world’s needs, wounds, and injustices. We resonate with Frederick Buechner’s often-quoted phrase, “God calls us to where our great joy meets the world’s great need.” If we’ve stayed around awhile, we have found this to be true. To be sustainable, our presence in hard places cannot be spurred merely by dogged heroism in the pursuit of righteous causes. Or worse, an asceticism that imagines if there is deprivation somewhere, we have no business enjoying anything anywhere. We have found joy in our difficult places of need, and the joy sustains us.
We are not simply given to the world to be used up, consumed. We know people (and maybe even been people) who have “burnt out” in our settings and it’s not a pretty sight—no gift to anyone at all. Surely this is not the way of the meal of blessing. In the way of the Eucharist we are given in a way that nourishes all.
As important as Buechner’s observation is, there is a much deeper truth to our calling. Our most important formation is not around need. Rather, it is around abundance. It is around delight. It is around peace. It is around freedom. It is around beauty. It is around freedom. It is around fullness. It is around yes.
The Hebrew Scriptures refer to all this as shalom. Sometimes translated as peace, shalom carries a far richer meaning than simply the absence of conflict. In fact, its essence is not rooted by the absence of anything. Shalom does not come into being by correcting any deficit. It is more than simply a remedy. Shalom exists prior to lack, pain, injustice, or no. It is the Yes of creation. It flows from the I AM before anything was not.
This is profoundly more important than semantic word-splitting. If we frame our calling and spiritual formation most fundamentally around meeting needs, or overcoming sin, or confronting injustice, or resolving conflict, or restoring brokenness, or solving a problem, we will inevitably find ourselves stuck. We will always be defined in some sense by some negative dynamic. These deficits will never nourish; they will only deplete. In hard places we will find ourselves chronically hungry.
If on the other hand we are being formed for shalom, we are being formed from the start in God’s Yes. We are being given in the way the world has been given from the beginning, in lavishly creative goodness. We are given as gift, before any consideration of need.
As a side note, this is perhaps the most important subtext that prompts the Apostle Paul’s admonition regarding the Lord’s Supper, “if anyone is hungry he should eat at home.” The meal of blessing isn’t simply a fix, a solution, and our lives are given for purposes far more lavish and beautiful than solutions.
The invitation to be shaped for shalom has great practical implications we will touch on later. For now, let us consider that it begins with a way of seeing, rooted in abundance rather than deficit.
Formation in Action
What about your action and activism is rooted in deeply God’s Yes? Is there a deeper organizing principle or purpose beyond simply correcting deficits? How are you, or your community being formed for shalom?
Formation in Reflection and Discernment
Ask God for the gift of sight for shalom in your context. What is God calling good, and how is it being creatively called forth? Give thanks, and allow yourself to be given.
For Daily Prayer:
A daily prayer guide from our Street Psalms Community is here.
Photo: my friend Barbro Gustavsson shares a meal with a resident of a home for people with disabilities in Romania
Scott Dewey is a CTM Training Associate, a member of the Street Psalms Community and works with Mile High Ministries in Denver, Colorado USA. Scott shares his thoughts at Seeing from Below This post is part of a 40-week guided spiritual formation experience called Meal from Below, to which he regularly contributes.