“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” Jesus said to the disciples at their last meal together. For most of us, peace has come to mean the absence of major wars, but in Hebrew, the word for peace is Shalom, meaning Fullness, Harmony, Wholeness.
The volatile situation in the Middle East continues to threaten worldwide peace. In our own country, we may not be at war on a battlefield, but the war of words rages on. Where do we find Shalom?
Etty Hillesun, the Jewish Dutch author who was murdered at age 29 in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943, wrote:
“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large area of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”
I remember a special place of peace that I wish could be emulated worldwide: An old farmhouse in Maine housed a spiritual retreat center for women called Greenfire. Founded by three Episcopal priests who decided to trade their traditional church roles for a ministry of peaceful presence, they offered retreats, discussion groups, worship services, and individual appointments called Circles.
I visited Greenfire every summer until it closed in 2007, but my first visit is the one I remember most vividly. Having no idea what to expect, I drove about twenty miles into the rolling farmland of interior Maine, parked in a converted field/‘parking lot’ next to the house, walked up to the screened door, and was warmly greeted by Connie and Judith, two of the founding priests, and a perky volunteer named Adelaide.
We entered a small room with a fireplace and four rocking chairs arranged in a circle, sat in the rocking chairs facing each other, and Connie began, “For centuries, women have sat in circles, knitting, sewing, listening to each other, and responding as the spirit led them. That is what we try to do here. Today, it is your turn to talk while we listen. We may sit quietly for a few minutes after you speak, and then we will offer back what we heard so you might see yourself more deeply and clearly. After an hour or so, we will end the conversation, give you a blessing, and you are free to go or stay and walk around.”
So I talked without interruption, and when I was finished, we sat in silence for a minute or two, and then they began to offer back what they had heard.
When it was time to go, we stood in a circle holding hands while Judith offered this Buddhist blessing:
May you be at peace.
May you know the beauty of your own true nature.
May your heart remain open.
May you be healed.
Let us spread that blessing far and wide because Etty Hillesun is right:
The more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world. Shalom!