The Way to Shalom
A Lenten Journey to Peace and Wholeness
Lent is a time of spiritual renewal. It is a season of preparation during the 40 days and six Sundays before Easter. Lent is a time when we reflect upon the love of God and the gift of God’s grace. It has a solemn beginning with Ash Wednesday, which is on Feb. 17 this year. On that day, with burnt palm branches crushed into ashes smudged onto foreheads, we are reminded that “from dust you came and to dust you shall return.”
But Lent is not a time to wallow in worry about God’s wrath. It is not a time of anxiety about our sinfulness or worth. Lent is a time of reflection on what God has done to redeem us and how we can live a whole and full life as a child of God. The Apostle Paul counsels us in Philippians 4: “Have no anxiety about anything” (RSV).
A different Lenten focus for 2021
While Lent is a time for prayer, fasting, service and contemplation, at the top of our list should be a prayer for the acquisition of peace. This year for the season of Lent, we invite you to reflect upon the gift of shalom, the Hebrew word for peace. In the Bible, shalom can be translated not only as peace, but also as tranquility, security, well-being, health, welfare, completeness and safety. How can we receive this gift of shalom and, in turn, bestow it upon the world?
In Israel, shalom is both a greeting and a farewell. When greeted by “shalom,” it is a form of hopeful blessing that you are filled with God’s perfect peace and well-being. It is a prayer that you will have health, prosperity and peace of mind and spirit. Shalom denotes fullness and perfection, an overflowing joy that moves from your innermost being and is expressed in the way you live your life and engage with others.
The season of Lent moves us to reflect deeply upon shalom. We live in a world in desperate need of peace. The United States has just come out of a contentious election while struggling with a global pandemic and grappling with racial violence. Poverty, misery and despair fill many corners of the world. Violence holds a vicious grip on the lives of many people. We desire peace. We need peace. We must pray — and work — for peace here in the U.S. as well as in other parts of the world. The need for peace is a global one, and this devotional will raise awareness of our brothers and sisters who are living in areas around the world that are filled with conflict and strife.
To obtain peace, though, we must explore the full extent of its meaning. The search for shalom must examine it as relational, connectional and communal. It is relational wherein my peace cannot be achieved if others are denied what makes them whole. It recognizes that what impacts you impacts me. It is connectional in that it begins with a recognition that we are children of God created “in the image and likeness of God.” Shalom is communal in that it builds community and enables us to live as one. Scripture proclaims the need for shalom. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, blesses us: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27a).
This Lent, let us make our way to shalom — a gift that will bless one another and the world. — Jimmie Hawkins
About the authors
The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., is joined by colleagues Catherine Gordon, associate for international issues; Christian Brooks, representative for domestic poverty issues; Sue Rheem, representative for the United Nations; and Ivy Lopedito, a mission specialist for the United Nations, in writing this year’s devotional. The Office of Public Witness is the denomination’s advocate and social witness in Washington, D.C. Learn more.
Engaging with the Lenten Devotional:
How to approach each week
Each week in Lent will have a new theme covering one of the many definitions of shalom. You will be invited to begin the week by reflecting on the theme. Ponder it in prayer before beginning to read each day’s devotional. Ask God to open your heart to receive whatever message the Spirit is eager to give you during this season of walking with the Prince of Peace, Jesus.
Presbyterians Today also invites you to create your own visual reminder of the importance of praying for peace. Using strips of fabric and a fabric marker, write your prayers for peace weekly or daily and then attach them to either a tree in your yard, a railing on the steps of your home or even a fence. Let the fabric, blowing in the wind, be a witness in your community that peace is possible and that it begins with each one of us. Go a step further and share with those in your community about God’s shalom and invite them to add to the peace tree, railing or fence. By Easter morning, may there be hundreds of peace prayers blowing in the wind, greeting a new day with hope. Share your peace prayer trees, railings or fences with Donna Frischknecht Jackson, editor of Presbyterians Today at Donna.Jackson@pcusa.org.