Thy Kingdom Come: Agents of Shalom

Blog Post By: Joel Bratt

Good King Wenceslas looked out
on the feast of Stephen,

when the snow lay round about,

deep and crisp and even.

Brightly shone the moon that night,

though the frost was cruel,

when a poor man came in sight,

gathering winter fuel.


In his book Engaging God’s World, Cornelius Plantinga Jr. writes that God’s act of creation was an act of hospitality: God created time and space for his creation to flourish. 

Supposing that hospitality means to make room for others and then to help them flourish in the room you have made, I think we could say that hospitality thrives within the triune life of God and then spreads wonderfully to the creatures of God…According to God’s intelligence, the way to thrive is to help others thrive; the way to flourish is to cause others to flourish; the way to fulfill yourself is to spend yourself…The idea is that if -- in a band of disciples, in a family, in a college -- people encourage each other with blessings customized to fit the other person’s need, what transpires is a lovely burst of Shalom*.  (21 & 22)

I love this passage, and I think one of the reasons it has stuck with me for so long is that it is filled with a paradox of the Christian walk (just a reminder to my students, a paradox is a seemingly contradictory or absurd statement that expresses a possible truth). The way for us to thrive is not to be obsessed with self-preservation; the way for us to thrive is to help others thrive. The way for us to flourish is not to gather as much as we can; the way for us to flourish is to help others to flourish. The way to fulfill ourselves, to fill our lives fully, is not to store up more stuff; the way to fulfill our lives is to spend ourselves.

The truth of the text reminds me of the last verse of the old Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas.” The carol is the story of a King and his page who together see a peasant man off in the distance. The king asks the page who the peasant is, the page tells the king, and the king calls for food and drink and firewood that they themselves will deliver to the peasant. On their journey, the winter weather gets colder and the page feels  he can no longer go on. The king instructs his page to walk in his footsteps which makes the journey warmer and easier. As singers of the carol we are left to imagine the feast, the sharing, the gratitude, the warmth. And the text leaves us with this:

In his master's step he trod,

where the snow lay dinted.

Heat was in the very sod

which the saint had printed.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure,

wealth or rank possessing,

ye who now will bless the poor

shall yourselves find blessing.


One of the many things that interests me about this carol is that, just as the Father in the parable of the lost son(s) goes out on the road to meet his prodigal son and goes out into the field to meet his elder son, this king also goes out to the home of the peasant.

...with blessings customized to fit the other person’s need...

___

When we help create spaces of hospitality, when we create time and space for others to flourish, when we understand what students and families and school folk need and help them on their way, when we custom fit blessings for each other and beyond, what transpires is a lovely burst of Shalom.

This is what I see and hope for when I think about our school: that we are and continue to be a group of unique and committed families, students, teachers, and friends who are working toward and encouraging blessings custom-fit for those who need them.
 

Therefore, Christian men, be sure,

wealth or rank possessing,

ye who now will bless the poor

shall yourselves find blessing.


And it is my hope that this Christmas Season you have experienced, even if in only some small way, a sense of Shalom.

I look forward to the new year, filled with hope, as we continue the work of schooling and building Thy Kingdom Come.

Peace,

Joel

____

* In Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, Plantinga borrows from Nicholas Wolterstorff when he describes Shalom as:

The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfilment, and delight...far more than a mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, Shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight -- a state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.