Whose Word Is “Shalom”?

by Maggie Montague

Shalom was how my grandfather greeted us as my family was ushered through the door of his 300 square foot apartment in downtown Los Angeles. The air was thick with year-round heat locked in by pasted down windows and tasted of stale books. The word felt funny on my tongue as I said it back to him. Shalom. It felt heavy and useless, falling without meaning as he pulled me face first against his tweed suit coat, as he asked me to call him Sabba.

Shalom was described to me in my private Lutheran elementary school as Judaism’s word, like salvation or grace is to Christianity. But the reduction seemed wrong to me, even as a ten-year-old . It was my sabba’s word; it was stuffed with musty tweed, a fedora and pieces of egg in a mustache.

Strangely enough, in Costa Rica I found another meaning for shalom. It seemed odd that I was studying Biblical Themes of Shalom in Central America, but in the end, it made sense. Shalom wasn’t Judaism’s word or even restricted to my sabba. In Hebrew, it roughly translates to the way things were meant to be, the true purpose of an object, or the unobscured function. It is relationships unscarred and mended, green fields met with the dew of the morning, and the wide girth of laughter.

It remains scented with my sabba’s laugh, his thick accent as he proclaimed my father the “greatest man in all the world,” but it also contains the hope of a tomorrow better than today. The peace of a God who seeks to mend the broken between us.

Maggie Montague is in her third year as an English major and art history minor at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. Native to southern California, Maggie has always loved stories whether in life, her own writing, books, or artworks. Item number one on her bucket list is to go on an archaeological excavation in the Middle East.

Shalom image is from here.

2 thoughts on “Whose Word Is “Shalom”?

  1. Reblogged this on the Summer of Yes and commented:
    An interesting personal interpretation one of my favorite words by Maggie Montague, a writer for Rock & Sling. It’s fascinating how certain words can build a meaning wholly different from their “dictionary definition” because of how we have experienced them. Enjoy!

  2. Maggie, this is so perfectly profound and wise beyond your years (and well beyond that of when you felt the word’s seeming uselessness at 10 years old.) Yet, at the same time, this is perfectly simple. You’ve made it so clear and have unwrapped the gift of “Shalom” in a way that I can understand it. Thank you for your beautiful words that showcase your beautiful heart for God. Shalom, my friend!

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