Oseh Shalom

I can’t stop singing Oseh Shalom in my head.

I’d never heard this melody until last Sunday, when a choir performed it during the “kirkin’ o’ the tartan” that concluded the Munro reunion.

At first it seemed an odd choice for a Presbyterian service, but I was drawn into the music: There was something haunting and timeless about its beautiful message of peace.

The pastor stood up to deliver his sermon. “Most of us have heard the word ‘shalom,’” he began. For most Westerners, he said, shalom is synonymous with “peace.” But he went on to explain the word’s complex etymology and rich meaning.

In Hebrew, he said, shalom doesn’t mean merely the absence of conflict. In fact, shalom can exist even in the midst of war: Shalom is a sense of inner peace and harmony — and even prosperity, the pastor said.

He read a passage from Jeremiah, which exhorts the Jewish people to make the best of their exile in Babylon:

Seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you, and pray to the Lord in its behalf, for in its shalom, you will find your shalom.  –Jeremiah 29:7

I was reminded of that sermon today when I read about the fighting between the Palestinian farmers and the Jewish settlers in the West Bank. How sadly ironic that the fighting took place in an olive grove, and that bullets flew among the olive branches — the ancient symbols of peace.

There are no easy answers, of course. Everyone in this generations-old story has at some point been aggrieved. And everyone shares the same fundamental drive to protect their family, their way of life, their land.

But I pray that one day Israel will experience shalom in its simplest form: as the absence of war and as a lasting peace.

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