This past week, I was sitting in a hospital waiting room while my mom had cataract surgery, a minor outpatient procedure. I watched people come and go and, after a few hours, it began to dawn on me that people who arrived after I did had already left the hospital. The nurse had informed me that it would take about an hour, but as the minutes ticked by, I knew something was amiss. That moment when you realize that something is not quite right, that things are not going as expected, you have a choice: you can start to panic, imagining every possible horrific scenario, or you can choose peace. I knew that my mom was surrounded by capable health care professionals, so I said a prayer of trust and surrender and continued to read my novel. Shortly after that, a nurse came into the waiting room and sat down beside me. She said, "You mom had an episode during surgery..." Once again, I was faced with a choice: did I let anxiety or peace rule the day? I chose peace and smiled at the nurse as I waited for details. It turned out that my mom had what is called a vasovagal syncope (like when people faint at the sight of blood) and after a bit of a recovery time and a snack, she was all good to go.
It seems that we are increasingly bombarded by unsettling news and precarious situations in our world: natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes, threats of war, unstable governments, increasing conflicts, not to mention personal crises and pressures. The list just goes on and on. Peace seems scarce in the midst of such turmoil, but I am reminded of the words Jesus spoke to people caught in uncertain times: "Peace be with you."
The Hebrew word which we translate as peace is shalom, and its meaning is packed with richness and breadth. It is part of the common Eastern greeting, "Shalom Aleichem," which means, "Peace be unto you." The word shalom speaks of harmony, tranquility, lack of conflict, and a treaty between two parties. It also includes the ideas of well-being, prosperity, wholeness, being safe and secure, and being forgiven. The Greek word for peace is eirene and it means peace of mind, health, welfare, and perhaps most significantly, to join together into a whole, all essential parts linked together. When Jesus healed people and forgave their sins, he often said, "Go in peace." I believe he was doing more than uttering a common greeting or leave-taking. By this blessing of shalom, he indicated that their lives, as well as their bodies, were made whole and restored to harmony. Very often it also meant that those who were formerly outsiders were now joined together with society in a new way. When the resurrected Jesus appeared for the first time to the disciples (whose world was in total upheaval after the death of their master and teacher), he greeted them with, "Peace be with you." And he said it again for emphasis (John 20). Not only was he calming their fears and anxieties, he was letting them know that the one who brought peace was with them.
In Isaiah 9, we read about the coming Messiah, a prophecy which was fulfilled in Jesus. "His name? His name we'll know in many ways - He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing, Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace," (The Voice translation). Let me draw attention to the last two titles: "Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace." In thinking about where we find shalom or peace, one could say that peace is present when the Prince of Peace is near. I am reminded of the story of Jesus and the disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee at night when a storm rose up.
"And a fierce windstorm began to blow, and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already being swamped. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep [with His head] on the [sailor's leather] cushion. And they woke Him and said to Him, 'Teacher, do You not care that we are about to die?' And He got up and [sternly] rebuked the wind and said to the sea, 'Hush, be still (muzzled)!' And the wind died down [as if it had grown weary] and there was [at once] a great calm [a perfect peacefulness]. Jesus said to them, 'Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith and confidence [in Me]?'" (Mark 4:37-40, Amplified Bible).
Peace did not enter this scenario after Jesus commanded the storm to subside. While the waves crashed and the disciples panicked, peace was already present because the Prince of Peace was in the boat. Jesus was asleep not because he was unaware of the precarious situation, but because he lived in the realm of peace. Jesus's questioning rebuke to the disciples revealed that they still had not made the connection between being with Jesus and participating in the life of the Prince of Peace. They did not understand what it meant to be joined together with the living God as a vine is joined to the branches, living in wholeness and harmony, in safety and security. We find a similar idea in the oft-quoted reassurance: "Be still, be calm, see and understand I am the True God" (Psalm 46:10, The Voice). Here, too, we find a link between stillness or calmness and understanding who God is. Knowing God seems to be possible only after we step away from fear and turmoil. In other words, we cannot truly understand or see who God is (or have some measure of discernment) when we are in a frenzy or wracked with anxiety.  This was certainly the case for the disciples in the storm-tossed boat.
Very often we equate peace with an absence, be it conflict, trouble, anxiety, stress, or noise. But peace is not a lack or absence. Peace is a presence; the presence of the Prince of Peace, and as such, always available to us, no matter what our circumstances. We choose peace by choosing to join ourselves with the Prince of Peace.
I recently came across The Shalom Prayer by Dennis Wrigley. Here is an excerpt:
Bring me now into the deep silence of your presence.
I give you my body and ask that I may become your dwelling place
This moment may every part of my being be at peace.
Let my heartbeat
Be in harmony with your heartbeat
Let every part of my body be filled with your Spirit
Take each blood vessel.
Take every part of my nervous system.
Take each muscle, each organ, each cell.
Fill me now
With your stillness
With the reality of your living presence.
Help me now to pray - even without words.
Help me to pray with my breathing
To breathe in of your love and your peace
To breathe out of my pain and sadness
To breathe in of your cleansing and forgiveness
To breathe out of my guilt and impurity.
So in my breathing may my body and soul be at one with you
In harmony with you
At ease with you.
May I be still and know that you are God.
May I be still and know that you are the Lord who brings healing.
Help me to hear your still, small voice
May I now hear your words - "peace, be still."
May all my storms subside as I accept your real presence.
Be with us, Prince of Peace.
1. Thanks to Todd Rutkowski for this insight. See his blog on anxiety: http://epicgroup.ca/anxiety-is-sexy-and-wild/
2. You can find the whole text of The Shalom Prayer here: http://praylikeagourmet.com/creative-prayer/the-shalom-prayer/
Image from lenmallen.com