The Vocabulary of Shalom

by Geoff Wichert

At the end of April the Christian Reformed Campus Ministry Association held its annual conference in Halifax under the theme of “Living God’s Shalom on Campus.” Our time together began with a very insightful student panel that did a good job of introducing the notion of shalom as a broad and multi-faceted description of God’s overarching redemptive plan to bring healing and hope to the world.

It’s not surprising that, in our desire to adequately articulate the scope, significance and nuance of something so big, we will struggle to find a vocabulary adequate to the task. The metaphor “waging shalom” was employed and occasioned questions amongst some of the participants.

As I listened to the many voices joining the conversation, I began brainstorming other words we might use to capture some different aspects of this grand vision we’re trying to comprehend. And so I offer you this far-from-comprehensive vocabulary of 21 ways we might choose to talk about our efforts to participate in what God is doing among us and in the world.

We might…

  • Scatter shalom – as in seeds; small packets of reproductive potential; dried parcels of life
  • Raise shalom – as with children; think of mothers throughout all times and places in history
  • Nurture / cultivate shalom – like a gardener tending seedlings, a farmer growing a crop, or any of us caring for our house plants
  • Kindle shalom – as a fire: it sparks, burns, catches, consumes; alive and too hot to touch
  • Act out shalom – like a drama or a protest; action/praxis; from rehearsal to proclamation
  • Tell / testify / witness to shalom – telling stories of what we have seen and heard; shout and sing of what we have experienced
  • Celebrate shalom – with eagerness, joy, gratitude, wanting to share, re-minding ourselves and others that it’s life-giving and inviting
  • Desire shalom – so it becomes the thing we want more than anything else
  • Yearn for shalom – longing & hope; lament & aspiration, fervent prayer and striving
  • Work for shalom – effort, toil, struggle, “a long obedience in the same direction” (Eugene Peterson)
  • Practice shalom – patient, persistent, repeated behaviours; dedication because you don’t usually get it right the first time (or any time)
  • Experience shalom – with humility, because we too need to find wholeness and healing for our own brokenness and wounds
  • Embrace shalom – like a hug that offers welcome, hospitality; arms entwined together
  • Struggle for shalom – vigorous engagement, perhaps even conflict; combat / challenge / try to overcome ignorance, hate, apathy, fear, self-righteousness, pride
  • Risk shalom – sacrifice, wager/gamble; never a sure thing, like the radical contingency of history that is still in the making
  • Think / study shalom – reflect, critique, examine, contemplate, analyze, strive to understand how it works and what helps it to flourish
  • Wait for shalom – never complete in our lifetime; it is ultimately God’s to create; will only fully come to fruition at the redemption of all creation
  • Seek shalom – like a treasure that has been lost; look for it, pay attention, watch very closely, discern in order to see what others can’t or won’t
  • Live shalom – be the change, make it integral to the way you live your life; be a living, breathing presence of shalom in the world
  • Imagine shalom – because we haven’t even begun to dream of all the possibilities, we need creative new ideas, transformed minds, and energized imaginations
  • Receive and share shalom – like a gift, given with the intent that it be passed along; a reminder that we can’t make it happen apart from God’s radical grace and generosity

And in that spirit, I encourage you to continue expanding and deepening your own, and our shared, vocabulary of shalom both in word and in action.

Geoff Wichert

5 Responses to “The Vocabulary of Shalom”

  1. Brian Walsh

    Thanks for this, Geoff. I seem to recall in a late night conversation with a group of students that the metaphor of “midwifing” shalom emerged as well. To be a midwife for shalom assumes that shalom goes all the way down, shalom is indeed an ineluctable force of creation, all of creation is born in shalom and is directed towards shalom. And so the metaphor of midwifery suggests that as creation struggles to birth shalom, we are called to be attentive, supportive and skilled midwives in this birth. We need to learn the skills of midwifing shalom.

  2. Mke Hogeterp

    Thanks for this Geoff. Your many words connected to shalom – and Brian’s too – speak to its rich texture and interconnectedness. This week I’m learning in the circle about Indigenous perspectives on Covenants for peace and justice….. naturally we’re talking about ‘all my relations’ – that shalom comes in balance with the Creator, all living things and with each other. So to your already fine list I propose we add that shalom is “humble relationships”
    Mike Hogeterp

  3. Danielle Rowaan

    I especially like “imagine shalom”. Our imaginations, like the rest of us, have to get used to freedom in Christ, one aspect of which is the freedom to believe that something better is possible than what we see around us.

  4. chris

    thanks for this! great stuff – spreading it around.

  5. Stir Up Sunday | Presbyterian Record

    […] Christian Reformed Campus Ministry Association’s annual conference in Halifax under the theme of “Living God’s Shalom on Campus.” Thanks for this text – good advent […]


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