This year we asked Mission Year staff and writers to answer the question, “What does the word “shalom” mean to you? We’ll be sharing their answers on the blog each month. What does the word mean to you?
When I starting thinking about what the word “shalom” means to me, I wondered about the how using a Jewish phrase as Christian person might sound to someone who practices Judaism. What can a word with an important meaning in one religion mean in a religion that (mostly) has no real desire to understand the one from which it’s borrowing language? What does it mean to use a Jewish term, after being part of a powerful evangelical culture that teaches Jewish people have no real peace because they have no savior? Which I now know is an uninformed understanding of the faith.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot over the past three years – how do I move around as a member of a religion with a lot of power? What do my actions or language mean in context? How can I best live into the values Christianity has taught me (love, solidarity, service, community) and understand religious power at the same time?
A few years ago I was working with LGBTQ youth who had been kicked out of their households (or chosen safety by running away), mostly in the name of Christian values. I started wondering what it might be like for people with their backgrounds to see people praying outside a building, or in a restaurant over a meal. Was it triggering? Did they feel safe around it? What did it mean for them to overhear someone talking about God? They all had different experiences, some which changed over time, and some of them didn’t think about it at all. If shalom – which means peace, welcome, and wholeness – can mean anything to me, it means all of this.
To me, shalom means that there is the possibility for everyone to not be alone; that there are people who are considering your experiences, best interests, and heart and what those mean to you. It means to me that there is some type of partnership for everyone, in multiple ways and at different times.
Image credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Ashleigh Hill is Mission Year’s Director of Development and a 2009-10 Chicago alumni. Originally from Virginia, she holds an MA in Gender Studies from DePaul University. You can read more on her blog or invite her to speak.