Shalom. Peace. Integration. Wholeness. Hello and goodbye—an entire cycle of welcome. A face of the divine, according to the priestly blessing. And part of the name of a holy city. An aspirational name. Jerusalem, Yerushalayim: yerushat shalom, an inheritance of peace.
Jewish liturgy is full of prayers for peace. One famous version closes every Jewish prayer service. It even teaches us how to pray for peace.
A Traditional Prayer
We can and should hope, says the prayer. Just look up at the skies! Even the fiercest storms pass. We ask—as the Aramaic translation puts it—that the great peace of heaven be upon us. Yehey shelama rabba min shemaya aleynu.
And who is “us”?
First, just our own selves. Each individual putting their inner house in order. It’s okay to start with a selfish prayer.
Second, our closest circle of spiritual travellers—however we define that. People and animals we love. Spiritual seekers on a similar path. Friends and colleagues who wrestle with worry, just as we do. It’s okay to pray especially hard for those whose inner lives we know.
Third, all who dwell on earth. This includes all people, even our enemies. If their inner storms of sorrow, rage, and hate pass, then they will leave us alone. And it includes all creatures in our planetary ecosystem. Even mosquitoes—whatever it might mean to you to pray for their peace.
Try this peace prayer as a meditation. Sit, lie down, stand if you prefer, comfortably. Close your eyes, if you feel safe doing so.
Breathe slowly and deeply. Soon you may feel a little calmer. More centred. More peaceful. Breathe, enjoy, savour the feeling.
Then, wish that your circle of spiritual fellow travellers could feel this peace. Using your imagination, share this feeling with them. Picture them moving through life with your gift of peace. Breathe.
Feel the power of the peace flowing from you. Let it flow like a wave, or shine like rays of light, or waft like a sweet fragrance. Imagine it touches everywhere and everyone. Then, wish that all who dwell on earth could know this peace.
When you’re ready open your eyes.
Questions About Peace
If you did this without too many stray thoughts, you’ll be smiling.
But some stray thoughts are normal. Some are even called forth by the prayer. What does it mean to pray for our enemies? For people who want to harm us? Who have harmed us? What kind of peace do we really want for them? What kind of peace do we want with them?
Just yesterday, I asked students and colleagues these questions. Here’s what they said.
We don’t just want “negative peace.” Not just the absence of conflict. We don’t want to make peace with injustice. To just shut up and pretend everything is okay.
Instead, we want “positive peace.” A peace that comes from real healing. A courageous peace. Where people speak truth, then repent, repair, and restore. This is the peace that can truly flow from one person to another.
And let us say: Amen.
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Image: Saint Peter’s Basilica Vatican City, photo by Jebulon. Oseh Shalom, closing line of the Mourner’s Kaddish. Terms “positive peace” and “negative peace” attributed to sociologist Johan Galtung. Thanks to members of CBI North Adams, Oak Park Temple Chicago, and #SlateSpeak on twitter for speaking with me about peace.