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Jun 10, 2021 926 Graziano Marcheschi, USA
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The True Meaning of Shalom

As an Author, Storyteller and National Speaker he seeks to emanate the light of Christ to the whole world. Meet Graziano Marcheschi the Senior Programming Consultant of Shalom World as he beautifully describes the essence of Shalom ministry.

Prelude

They don’t come often. Days of singular focus where everything works together and everything hangs together; days free of crippling self-awareness when we surrender to the flow and the unfolding of events …and of God’s grace.

Such was my daughter’s wedding day.

I awoke happy, looking forward to the day without any of the father-of-the-bride wedding day jitters. Everything was just as it should be. Throughout the day, I found peace in every moment. The Mass, presided over by our local archbishop, was perfect—his homily a brilliant breaking open of the word of God. The reception, my father-of-the-bride toast, the 20-foot-long banner unfurled on cue by my nephews professing a father’s love for his little girl—all holy, all part of a seamless flow. Nothing could disturb the perfect balance. Even my daughter-bride’s frantic whispers in my ear that the caterers were serving the “wrong” menu brought no alarm. “What do you mean, ‘the wrong menu?’” I asked “It’s not what we ordered!” she stressed. But the food was good. Too good to upend the equilibrium of that special day. I visited with friends and family members. “Thank you so much for including us,” one said. “Of course, of course!” It all went by so fast, so smoothly, so like it was being guided from somewhere far beyond.

But the real grace of that day, what made it exceptional and unique, was my lack of self-awareness and self-preoccupation. Of course, I was there. I wasn’t withdrawn or in a daze. I was fully aware, though not of myself, but of all that was beautifully, gracefully unfolding among us. It was a rare magic I’ve tasted but a few times in my life.

A Puzzle

When I first encountered Shalom World ministries, I wondered why a Catholic organization would adopt such a Jewish name. Friends who know of my work with Shalom often ask the same question. So, I decided to look deeper to better understand a word that’s peppered my vocabulary for as long as I remember.

Like the Italian “Ciao” or Hawaii’s “Aloha,” Shalom is a prosaic word used to greet and bid farewell: “Shalom!” when you meet someone. “Shalom!” when they leave. Though most commonly translated as “peace,” shalom holds a much deeper meaning for the Jewish people from whom we’ve borrowed the word. Much more than the absence of conflict, shalom implies a sense of completeness and wholeness. The word derives from the verb “shalem” which suggests a fullness and oneness in body, mind, and state of life. It celebrates an inner tranquility or harmony that manifests itself in the urge to give back, to restore and to make something whole.

When a Jewish person greets another with shalom, they are wishing them health, well-being, and prosperity. The same is true when Jews or Christians bless someone with the famous invocation from the Book of Numbers: “The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!” (Numbers 6: 24-26).  This is not the “peace and quiet” that we sometimes scream for in times of stress. It is a tranquility and harmony that we can’t manufacture and which only God can give us. Only from God himself, from “his face” shining down upon us, from his protection encircling us, can we receive the inner peace and completeness that are the real meaning of Shalom.

Scripture identifies God with peace to such an extent that Shalom becomes a name of God. In the Book of Judges (6:24) Gideon builds an altar to the Lord and calls it “Yahweh-Shalom” (“God is peace”). When we wish shalom to someone, we are wishing God upon them.

A Foretaste

Through a Christian lens, shalom becomes another word for the kingdom of God. In its deepest sense, the kingdom is Jesus Christ himself. In his person, Jesus embodies God’s kingdom. When he says, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand” Jesus announces that in his person, as both God and man, heaven and earth have met and God’s kingdom, God’s very presence, is now among us. And what do we understand the kingdom to be but God’s rule over us, his reign extended through the earth, a manifestation of the very attributes of shalom—completeness, safety, tranquility, harmony, and peace.

In a book entitled Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, author Cornelius Plantinga presents the Hebrew bible’s understanding of shalom this way:

“The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. … In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”  

What a perfect description that is of the kingdom of God.

As Christians, when we say shalom, we wish for the fullness of the Kingdom. We pray for God’s governance over us as individuals and as nations. We long for the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in us. Shalom on the lips of Jesus was a reminder to the disciples that what he brought was but a foretaste of what was to come in the fullness of God’s kingdom.

This understanding of shalom is what I experienced on my daughter’s wedding day—a sense of harmony, the absence of struggle and of self-preoccupation, the letting go of fear and trusting effortlessly in the providence of God.

That’s why Jesus rebuked more than the winds when the disciples cried out, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” in response to the sudden storm that filled them with terror as Jesus lay asleep in the back of the boat. He took them to task because he was disappointed that they had surrendered shalom. They weren’t simply anxious; they were afraid at their core. They forgot they weren’t in real danger because the lord of heaven and earth was in the boat with them. They feared he would let them down, sleep through the danger and let them drown. But true shalom means knowing we are never in mortal danger; remembering we are always in the hands of the lord of heaven and earth. It means trusting, at the core of our being, that in God’s hands we find safety, comfort, harmony, and peace.

If you wanted to create a ministry to bring the good news of the gospel to millions around the world, if you dreamed of a print magazine, television programming, and round the clock prayer that encourages readers and viewers with the message of Jesus— “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33)—what would you call that ministry?

How about Shalom World?

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Graziano Marcheschi

Graziano Marcheschi serves as the Senior Programming Consultant for Shalom World. He speaks nationally and internationally on topics of liturgy and the arts, scripture, spirituality, and lay ecclesial ministry. Graziano and his wife Nancy are blessed with two daughters, a son, and three grandchildren and live in Chicago.

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