Asticou Azalea Garden, Northeast Harbor, Maine
There is something calming about strolling through simple, precisely arranged vignettes of rock and sand, beautiful flowering trees and ornamental shrubs, meandering streams and murmuring waterfalls, and fish pools interspersed with reflective spaces containing old pots, bowls, lanterns or religious symbols. These natural and symbolic elements invoke a sense of orderliness and serenity, of antiquity and continuity, of a time warp connecting us with the past and the world in which we were made to dwell.
We all seek peace, not only freedom from external conflict but also relief from disordered minds overwhelmed and frustrated by an unruly world and sensitive spirits. The search for inner quietness and personal meaning are timeless. Historical characters like Israel’s King Solomon or fictional men like Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha went on life long searches for some enduring solution for their restlessness and dissatisfaction. Similarly, our search for respite from inner tension may lead to, among other things, dysfunctional behaviors, self-fulfillment endeavors, prescribed or illicit substances, counselling, and meditative techniques. We are in search of “shalom.”
The Jewish greeting “shalom” expresses much more than the thoughtless signaling of a peace sign or a superficial “good morning”. “Shalom” calls for the blessing of a whole and perfect life, of inner peace integrated with outer prosperity, of a life of harmony, health, safety, and tranquility. The origin of such peace is Jehovah-shalom (a Hebrew name for God).
Both the Old and New Testaments confirm God as the source of peace and love and comfort and hope. (Philippians 4:6) (11 Corinthians 1:3) (1 John 4:8,16)(Romans 15:13) Isaiah prophesized that Israel’s Messiah would be Immanuel, meaning God with us, and that He would be the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 7:14, 9:6) The name Immanuel and the idea that he would be the source of human peace were seamlessly connected to Jesus. (Matthew 1:23) (Luke 2:14) On the very night Jesus was born ,he was announced with God’s blessing of “ on earth, peace among men.” That peace would not be national or territorial or external peace but both a peace with God and an inner peace of God, a peace Christ mediated by taking the condemnation of sin which causes the spiritual breach between God and us and by bringing peace that “transcends understanding” to those who trust Him. (Philippians 4:7)
Christ dispensed “shalom” everywhere he went and to everyone he touched, even to lepers, the “untouchables”. Meeting Jesus is transformative and empowering. He healed and opened up an entirely new life to the crippled man at the pool of Siloam and did not condemn the adulterous woman whom the religious leaders were ready to stone. He forgave, exhorted, and empowered her to live a life of wholeness, to go and sin no more. And the wild, naked incontrollable, demon possessed man living in the tombs was found sitting clothed and in his right mind after he met Jesus.
Jesus restores people to wholeness. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 147:3) For that reason, he can be trusted to bring calmness to our brokenness, to our unruly thoughts and behaviors, and to the confusion brought by cultural influences. However, understanding how to live the Gospel is a life long process because Gospel-living is often counterintuitive and daunting. The New Testament letter to the Colossians delineates it this way:
“ But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:8-15 (ESV)
Putting off and putting on! That is “Shalom”! That is the process empowered by the “peace of Christ.” And that is God’s wish for us.