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?


Growing up attending Catholic Mass with my abuela Soledad was very meaningful to me. During the worship service, we would pass the peace, which was done through physical contact (shaking of hands, or giving a hug and kiss) and saying “La Paz de Cristo”. Through that liturgy, I learned that God’s peace is something that you give and receive. God gives you peace and you extend it to one another. Beyond passing the peace in worship services, we should practice passing God’s shalom through solidarity and mutuality with our neighbors.

Shalom is more than our understanding of peace which generally means the absence of trouble. Yale Divinity Professor Nicholas Wolterstorff emphasizes this distinction:
[It is] “peace” in the New Testament, but eirene in Greek is a pretty weak translation of what the Old Testament means by shalom. It means flourishing…When the Scriptures talk about love, commanding “love your neighbor as yourself,” you may ask, “Well, what’s the goal of this? What’s it after?” It seems to me it seeks the flourishing of your fellow human beings in all dimensions. That’s what the gospel is about: how humankind can flourish.

How then can we practice the giving and receiving of peace with our neighbors? What are we to do about the breakdown of shalom in our communities? How do we live into the reality that loving our neighbor as ourselves means our flourishing is caught up with theirs?


One way to practice the giving and receiving of peace (flourishing) is through the practice of solidarity, which communicates, “I stand with you”.   There are ways we can practically stand with our community. We celebrate with them when they experience flourishing. We stand with them in lament when they experience sorrow, and we advocate for them when their ability to flourish is threatened. Wolterstorff goes on to say. “A crucial part of shalom, and of seeking shalom — is justice. You can’t have shalom without justice. I mean, you may con people into thinking that they’re doing okay and so forth but whether they’re conned or not, if they’re suffering from injustice, if they’re being wronged, this is not true shalom.” Rosa was going through a rough time. Having come to Chicago fleeing the violence in her country she had no one she could count on.  She found herself in the uncomfortable place of depending on others. There are many ways our community was able to stand with Rosa. We helped with housing, medical appointments, clothing, and diapers and clothes for her new baby. We linked our lives with hers so that her flourishing was interconnected with ours.


Another way to practice the giving and receiving of peace (flourishing) is through the practice of mutuality, which communicates, “I need you”. If we receive God’s shalom and extend his shalom, but do not allow others in our community the dignity of the same, then we keep them from their God given mission to extend the blessing and peace of God to the world.  There are no missionaries and mission fields in mutuality- there are only neighbors. A community of people who communicate to one another that we are all in need of one another.

Rosa recently has to take an English class in order to comply with her request to stay in the U.S.  Someone asked on her behalf if I could watch her son. I communicated that I was also short on childcare during the week. In the end, I offered to take on some hours of watching her son if she would be willing to take on some hours of watching mine. I was communicating, I need you too. Now our sons spend 12 hours a week together between my house and hers. My son, Justo, has learned to crawl and stand faster having another child around. She gets to take her classes. I don’t have to pay any extra for childcare. This is not a wealthier citizen extending charity to a recent immigrant. It’s two mom’s helping one another out. Everyone flourishes in the end!

What about your community and your neighbors? How can you pass the peace in your community? In what ways do you live into the reality that your flourishing is caught up in their flourishing? Are you a missionary, a philanthropist, or an interconnected neighbor?

Sandra2Sandra Maria Van Opstal is a preacher, activist, and urban pastor who is passionate about creating spaces where voices from different cultures can come together in peace and overcome division. She serves as the Executive Pastor of Grace and Peace Community in Chicago. Invite Sandra to speak.