Walking the Path of Shalom
By Shauna Niequist
‘“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”’
— Numbers 6:24-26
There is a way of living, a way of harmonizing and hitting a balance point, a converging of a thousand balance points and voices, layering together, twisting together, and there are moments when it all clicks into place just for a split second—God and marriage and forgiveness and something deep inside that feels like peace—and that’s the place I’m trying to get to.
[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, A Blessing For a Bride]
I have glimpses every once in a while of this achingly beautiful way of living that comes when the plates stop spinning and the masks fall off and the apologies come from the deepest places and so do the prayers, and I am fighting, elbowing to make more of my life that life. I want that spirit or force of happiness that is so much deeper than happy—peace that comes from your toes, that makes you want to live forever, that makes you gulp back sobs because you remember so many moments of so much un-peace. I search for those moments the way I search for beach glass, bits of glitter along a desolate expanse of sand, and I want those moments to stretch into hours, into days.
The word I use for it is shalom. It is the physical, sense-oriented, relational, communal, personal, ideological posture that arches God-ward. That’s the best way I can describe it. It’s equilibrium and free-fall, balance and shake. It’s a new dance, a new taste, the feeling of falling in love, the knowledge of being set free. It’s that split-second cross between a fact and a feeling, something you would swear on in a court of law but couldn’t find words for if you tried.
To get there, I’m finding, is the hardest work and the most worthwhile fight. Shalom requires so much, so much more than I thought I would have to sacrifice, and it scrapes so deeply through the lowest parts of me, divulging and demonstrating so many dark corners. It’s something you can’t fake, so you have to lay yourself open to it, wide open and vulnerable to what it might ask of you, what it might require you to give up, get over, get outside of, get free from. It feels, sometimes, like running farther than you thought you could run, legs shaking and lungs burning, feeling proud and surprised at what little old you can do.
The spirit and the soul and the body and the mind are all connected, even though we’ve chosen to segment them, thinking things would stay more organized that way, like a cafeteria tray with compartments for pudding and green beans. But when we’re chopped apart, we lose the essence, the possibility of being aligned, connected, multiplying out into something more than legs and math formulas we learned in high school.
Shalom is about God, and about the voice and spirit of God blowing through and permeating all the dark corners that we’ve chopped off, locked down. It’s about believing, and letting belief move you to forgive. It’s about grace, and letting grace propel you into action. It’s about the whole of our lives becoming woven through with the sacred spirit of God, through friendship and confession, through rest and motion, through marriage and silence.
Shalom is the act of life lifting up and becoming an act of worship and celebration, a sacrament, an offering. It’s about living in a world of movie theaters and shoes and highways and websites, and finding those things to be shot through with the same spirit and divinity and possibility that we see in ourselves. It’s living with purpose and sacrifice and intention, willing to be held to the highest, narrowest possible standard of goodness, and in the same breath, finding goodness where most people see nothing but dirt.
I have been surprised to find that I am given more life, more hope, more moments of buoyancy and redemption, the more I give up. The more I let go, do without, reduce, the more I feel rich. The more I let people be who they are, instead of cramming them into what I need from them, the more surprised I am by their beauty and depth.
When we can manage to live this way of shalom, even for a moment, we pull each other up toward something bigger, wider, more beautiful, because left to my own devices, chances are, I will spiral down until life is nothing more than the mildew smell on my kitchen towels and the guilt I feel about all the things I thought I’d be.
The truest thing, it seems, is the biggest: the big idea of making a life with God, with honor, with honesty and community and beauty and the fragile delicate recipe of those, searching for the place where they all come together, where hope and struggle and beauty and tears swirl together into the best, brightest moments of life. That’s what I believe about God.
I believe life is a bottle rocket, a celebration, and it requires everything we have, and it demands that we battle through fear and resentment, and it demands that we release our need to be the best, the prettiest, the most perfect and together, because the big thing, the forceful beautiful thing is happening already, all around us, and we might miss it if we’re too busy meeting our parents’ expectations or winning awards.
Shalom is happening all around us, but it never happens on its own. The best things never do happen on their own, and shalom is the very best thing. In the same way that forgiveness never feels natural until after it’s done, and hope always feels impossible before we commit to it, in the same way that taking is easier than giving, and giving in is easier than getting up, in that same way, shalom never happens on its own.
It happens when we do the hardest work, the most secret struggle, the most demanding truth telling. In those moments of ferocity and fight, peace is born. Shalom arrives, and everything is new. And when you’ve tasted it, smelled it, fought for it, labored it into life, you’ll give your soul to get a little more, and it is always worth it.
Taken from Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life by Shauna Niequist. Click here to learn more about this book.
Shauna Niequist calls us to see the beauty, hope, and dimension in our ordinary days through the life-giving practice of celebration.
Cold Tangerines is beautiful narration of Shauna’s journey as a young writer, wife, and mom making peace with herself and crafting a life that celebrates the extraordinary moments hidden in the everyday. Throughout each story echoes the heartbeat message that the normal, daily life ticking by on our streets and sidewalks, at our dinner tables and in our late-night talks—is the most precious thing any of us will ever experience.
With her signature warmth and vulnerable storytelling, Shauna offers a feast of thoughtful reflections on the small moments that make up the human experience, the spiritual life, and things that seem ordinary but just might be sacred after all. She invites us into a new way of living with the awareness of God’s movement gracing every part of our day.
Both a voice of challenge and song of comfort, this gallery of celebration encourages us to turn our attention to the marvelous life happening right under our noses. Join Shauna in this heartfelt and hopeful call upward to a new way of being, where there’s room to breathe, to rest, to break down, and break through to the best possible life.
Shauna Niequist is the author of Cold Tangerines, Bittersweet, Bread & Wine, Savor, and Present Over Perfect. She is married to Aaron, and they have two wild and silly and darling boys, Henry and Mac. They live in New York City. Shauna’s three great loves are her family, dinner parties, and books, and she believes that vulnerable storytelling, hard laughter, and cold pizza for breakfast can cure almost anything.
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May 14, 2021