Walking through Cancer Valley: 4. The Shalom-ful Gift

This is the text of a video on my YouTube channel entitled Walking through Cancer Valley: 4. The Shalom-ful Gift.

“This is the fourth video in the set entitled “Walking through Cancer Valley”. The title of this one is “The Shalom-ful Gift”.

‘Shalom’ is a Hebrew word and it’s usually translated as ‘peace’ and I want to share with you about the peace I experienced in hospital and, more generally, about where peace comes from.

As a teenager at school in County Tipperary, one of many poems that I learned and loved was ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by W B Yeats. And in the second verse of that poem, he talks about how he expects to find peace in that tiny island in Lough Gill in County Sligo and he writes this:

“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet’s wings.”

I really love the phrase “peace comes dropping slow”. It’s about a peace that comes from without rather than from within.

Now in recent years, I have written and spoken a lot about peace, about shalom, about it as being something that we should seek to promote in all our lives … especially in our working lives. I often quote from the prophet Jeremiah who wrote to the exiles in Babylon who were longing to get back home to Jerusalem and he said, “No, you are to seek the shalom of the city, yes the city of Babylon. (If you’re interested in the kind of thing that I’ve been saying, you can see, for example, a blog on johnshortt.org and a video on my YouTube channel both of which are entitled ‘And the people stayed home’.)

However, in those two stays in hospital, it really came home to me that shalom/peace is not simply something to be sought and worked up from below but that it is a gift from above. Inner peace can be more than something simply achieved by being still and mindful although these certainly have their place. It can be more than something experienced on a tiny island in an Irish lake or in some other beautiful natural setting although those too can have their place.

But there is a peace that is a gift from above, a peace that Saint Paul describes in his letter to his friends in Philippi. He describes it as a peace that transcends human understanding and that’s the peace of which Jesus spoke with his friends on the occasion of the Last Supper before he was crucified. And he said to them, he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” And that is in John chapter 14, verse 27. And the verse continues with Jesus saying this: “Do not let your hearts be troubled”. It’s a peace that the world doesn’t give so it’s different, it’s from above. But Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled”, the implication being that we have a part to play in receiving and experiencing this gift. And after Jesus rose from the dead, John records three occasions on which he appeared to his friends and he greeted them this way, a lovely greeting: “Peace be with you”. In Arabic it would be “Salaam alaikum”.

In an email that Val and I sent out to friends and family after my first stay in hospital, after I was in for the surgery, I said of my experience of peace: “The experience is like that of being a little child questioning its Dad and perhaps complaining and wanting to be told everything but having him simply say, ‘Shush now, little one’.”  And one friend who received that email wrote back to me and she quoted from the Old Testament prophet Zephaniah, Zephaniah 3:17 where he says, “He (the Lord) he will quiet you with his love”. And I believe that what was happening to me in that ward was that the Lord was quieting me with his love.

And during those stays in hospital, I think I must have uttered within more hallelujahs than I had for years!  Mind you, although most of them were of the soaring Handel’s Messiah ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ kinds of hallelujah, some were also of the kind that Leonard Cohen sang when he talked of “broken hallelujahs”. (Again, if you’re interested, there is a blog on my website entitled “Two hallelujahs”.) But through it all there was a sense of peace such as I think I had never experienced before. Perhaps, perhaps there is a special peace the Lord gives to us when we are in special need, when we’re helpless, when we’re too weak to play any part in it.

And in the dark night hours punctuated by nurses’ checks on blood pressure, temperature and pulse, songs and hymns would come ‘floating by’ (to borrow a phrase from singer-songwriter John Denver). Carey Landry’s lovely adaptation of “Peace is Flowing like a River” was certainly one of those but most of them were older hymns and songs that I had learned in childhood and teenage years. Those were the ones that came to me in the night. And Val at home here had a similar experience and even of some of the same songs and hymns. And it was those hymns and songs that came with this sense of shalom, the peace that Jesus gives.

The next video starts with reference to one of my most favourite songs from teenage years. It’s the song “What a wonderful world” and I will be talking about the physical creation and also about my physical body, the changes that I’ve been experiencing. Thank you.”