Author: Travis E. Christian

Psalm 137: A Personal Interpretation

  1. Sitting on the banks of the mighty river Euphrates, we wept as we remembered the Holy Mountains of Peace.
  2. We laid our instruments down by the poplar trees.
  3. For our captors tortured us and ordered us to be joyful and to play them our songs from the City of Peace.
  4. But how could we sing the songs of the God of Peace in the land of our oppressors?
  5. If I forget the City of Peace, may I never play my harp again.
  6. Take my voice and keep me from singing a song again if I should forget you. If I should set any thoughts above the thoughts of Just Peace.
  7. Remember, O God, the day our city was captured. How our oppressors mocked us, saying, “destroy this holy city of peace!”
  8. Our oppression shall come to an end. Blessed are those who return us to justice.
  9. Blessed are those who turn the children of the oppressors against their wicked ways and toward your Liberation.

Psalm 55: A Personal Interpretation

  1. Hear my prayers, O God of Peace; do not hide yourself from my petitions.
  2. Listen to me, and answer me; for I am overwhelmed with troubles
  3. brought on by my oppressive thoughts. My inner voice can be so cruel and vicious, leading me into a place of darkness.
  4. My heart is heavy and visions of death have become my companion.
  5. I am lost in fear and trembling; overwhelmed with horror and dread.
  6. I cry out to you for help! If only I had the wings of a dove, I could fly away to a place where I could find inner peace.
  7. I would fly far from this place of chaos and seek refuge in Your places of solitude.
  8. I would find a shelter to keep me safe from this storm of despair.
  9. Take away these thoughts, for I fear they will lead me to the ways of violence and strife.
  10. Day and night I am overcome by the ways of this world.
  11. But the ways of this world is the path to ruin. The markets are filled with merchants peddling oppression and fraud.
  12. It is not those who speak evil and untruths about me—I can deal with them; it is not my enemy that tries to bring me to ruin.
  13. No! It is that very light within myself which has dimmed.
  14. That which brought me close to you, O God, who taught me to know you and to walk with you.
  15. Take these thoughts away. Let them dwell alone in the place of darkness they love.
  16. I call upon the God of Peace to save me.
  17. Any time of day, God will hear my petitions; my liberator will always hear my voice.
  18. God will save me from the tyranny of these thoughts.
  19. The God of Peace is my ruler, he will free me from bondage and lead me back to the ways of peace.
  20. My darkness enveloped me, turning me away from Your ways.
  21. It convinced me of lies and tried to get me to do violence against God’s creation.
  22. Put your faith in the God of Peace, who will sustain you and lead you down the path of love.
  23. You, O God of Peace, have the power to dispel the darkness, to cast out the despotism of wicked thoughts, leading me back to the road to peace. It is in the God of Peace that I put my trust for all my days.

A Blessing and Commentary

A couple of weeks ago I had to write a blessing accompanied by a short commentary for a class I’m taking in seminary. This is the result of that process:

Blessed are you, God of Peace,

who commands us to work for Justice

and to be Your hands in repairing Creation.

Blessed are you, God of Peace

The first part of this blessing nods to the formula used in blessings in the Jewish tradition and is directly offered to that aspect of God that is the God of Peace. The phrase “God of Peace” is one that is used several times throughout the Pauline epistles (see Romans 15:33, Romans 16:20, 1 Corinthians 14:33, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Philippians 4:9, Hebrews 13:20, and 1 Thessalonians 5:23), but the idea that peace comes from God and that God desires peace is an ancient idea which transcends any single religion. In Judaism, שלום (Shalom), meaning Peace, which is used as a common greeting, is considered a name for God, so much so that the Talmud discusses not greeting another in the bathroom as not to desecrate the name:

It is forbidden for a person to greet [shalom] his friend in the bathhouse because Shalom is one of the names of God, as it is stated: “And Gideon built there an altar for God and he called Him Lord Shalom” (Judges 6:24). Therefore, it is prohibited to utter the word shalom in a dishonorable place…. the name of God Himself is called Shalom, as it is written: “And he called Him Lord Shalom.” It is not an adjective, but a holy name in and of itself.(n.d.)

Likewise, Islamic tradition holds that there are 99 names for God which can be found in the Qur’an, and one of those names is السلام (Al-Salaam), Peace, and is also, like in Judaism, commonly used in greeting others.

Who Commands Us to Work for Justice
There are innumerable passages in the sacred texts of the world’s religions commanding people of faith to work for justice. For me, personally, these are all priceless treasures, but they do not stand alone. The scripture written on my heart and the instructions made clear to me when I listen to that still small voice of the Light within, command me to work for justice. I cannot understand how someone could read the Bible seriously and not take away from it God’s call for the people of Israel, and later for all of humanity, to work for justice. The apocryphal book of Susanna even speaks of neglecting their duties to work for justice, when two elders begin lusting after Susanna and “suppressed their consciences and turned away their eyes from looking to Heaven or remembering their duty to administer justice.” (Susanna 1:9).

This commandment to work for justice is, in my view, the core of the message of the Hebrew prophets, who were crying out for the establishment of a just society centered on the love of God; of Jesus, of the early Church, and of countless saints and prophets from times of old up through our current day.

And to Be Your Hands in Repairing Creation

To act as the hands of God is a concept that has deep meaning to me personally. It reminds me of the poem by Teresa of Avila which states, “Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours…. Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.” Indeed, if we are to work for justice as our traditions hold we should, we must recognize that we are the ones that must act to create that just world in the shell of the old.

No tradition that I am aware of explains the need to repair creation better than Judaism. Rabbi Julie Schwartz, speaking one Yom Kippur morning, stated clearly:

…[O]ur Jewish tradition doesn’t give us the option of deciding that we should end this world because it is just too messed up. Our Jewish tradition simply, incessantly, commands us to better it. As so many of you know, that call to better the world has an official theological term, Tikkun olam — repair of the world.

 The late Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement writes in his magnum opus, Likutei Moharan:

Since each man must say, “The whole world was only created for me.” (Sanhedrin 37) — hence, insofar as the world was created for me, I must at all times see and look into tikkun olam/rectifying the world and to fill the lackings of the world and pray for them. (5:1)

I believe that this commandment to repair creation is, although best articulated in the concept of tikkun olam, a universal one, and one which is more important now than at any other time in human history. As our climate changes, our forests disappear, our oceans rise, and as our unprecedented technological advancements have been used to inflict unimaginable pain and suffering upon all levels of creation, it is imperative that we each do whatever we can to repair the world, to bring love and compassion to all sentient beings, to find ways to use technology for the betterment of creation instead of using it to inflict torture and death upon the inhabitant of this earth.

In a time when it often seems more likely that a nuclear war will break out than nations beating their swords into plowshares; when our fellow humans mock and belittle those working for social justice or to decrease suffering; when politicians and wealthy elites convince their followers that the destruction of the earth is a positive thing, it is clear that things are very, very broken. At the same time, things have been broken for a long time. In the biblical narrative, since Adam and Eve were given their eviction notice and thrown out of the Garden of Eden. In Lurianic Kabballah — where the idea of tikkun olam reached it’s apex, the brokenness goes back to creation itself. But the prophets, sages, mystics, and saints have never accepted that brokenness but have worked to do their part to repair creation, as we are called to do our part.

References:

n.d. “B. Shabbat 10b:2-3.”