On Sunday, 18 September, on invitation, Rev Swee Ann Koh conducted the MUC monthly Emerging Church service. A presiding minister has not performed this function in a long time, but Swee Ann said that he relished the task and had an important message to get across. “I want to unravel the word shalom and show it’s connection to the theme Health in Mind, Body, and Spirit,” he said.
“I’m sure you realise that body, mind, and spirit are interconnected, that when something is troubling you mentally or emotionally, you begin to manifest symptoms physically … and any feeling of peace drifts far away. And yet peace is a major promise of God, having its roots way back in the times of the ancient Hebrews, only then it was called shalom.
“Shalom is a Hebrew word that means ‘peace’, but it also means wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquillity. At it’s root it means ‘total harmony’. It speaks of well-being and unity. Once the newly created world had settled down from its birth pangs, shalom was the situation the Bible suggests God had in mind for our habitation. And peace and harmony are the situations most of us want, whether that be with persons, organisations, or nations,” he said.
But humankind has a habit of disrupting the peace and despoiling the Earth, and this has accelerated on a grand scale since the industrial revolution, and the unleashing of unconstrained national aggression culminating in two world wars.
Peter was asked to read the lessons, the first from Isaiah 2: 3-4, exhorting the people to seek direction from God for the poor state Israel was in at the time and pointing to the dire need for shalom:
… “for out of Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the Lord. ”He shall judge between the nations and arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war anymore.”
The second reading (John 14: 25-27), where Jesus endows His peace and assures us that He will leave us an advocate, suggests that we need to make that plea again today if we desire deep shalom, i. e. peace between nations and a stable world order.
Swee Ann said,” As well, we need to reverse two well-held views, that land is purely real estate – a commodity that can be bought and sold; and that nature and its creatures are of little account if they do not return a profit. Fortunately, there are enough of us, even today, that still have some sort of mystical experience about our relationship with the rest of creation, who experience the Creator calling us back to recognise God’s love and care in the created world around us, to do something positive about it.
“My view, drawn from others I have read, is that we could adopt from the first nations of the world their attitude of ‘belonging’, and not ‘possessing’. For Indigenous Australians at least, there is not a separation of earth and people; country is not the place someone chooses to live, but an integral part of who they are. The Aboriginal person is a living, thinking, breathing physical manifestation of their land – there is a connectedness that they have never lost.
“It appears that the Europeans may have made a significant error in the time of the missionaries. They were so sure that they were right that they possessed the true spirituality – the true faith – that they, the church, not only denied the first peoples the use of their language and culture, they also dismissed their worldview and their spirituality and their identity with the land and, as a consequence, denied them the rich, shalom-bound lifestyle that could have enhanced the way we live out the Christian faith.
“Shalom, deep shalom, is an incredible gift that defines our belonging as being one part of a created whole. But if we are going to influence the world to be more caring it could be a demanding mission, especially when dealing with the world of the West, which I see as being hostile to this kind of belonging. May I suggest that our world, the world of the West, might be just downright resistant to the very idea of shalom itself. But we must try to reverse this.”
Swee Ann drew on the reflection of his audience at various junctures of his address.
He also drew on several authors known to him. The hymns (three) were: Let there be Peace on Earth; Shalom my Friend; and Shalom to You Now, shalom my Friend.