Balancing Acts

Shalom: Close to Home

by Tom Beuteltom b

The pastures in the wilderness glisten with moisture, and the hills are clothed with joy. The meadows are clothed with sheep, and the valleys are covered with grain. Ps. 65:12-13

Perhaps more than at any other time of year, it is during the summer that my thoughts focus on “life in the slow lane.” Spending time walking, gardening, sitting in the shade with a book, or watching a robin as it splashes in the bird bath all impress the rewards of slowing down on my thoughts and activities. Of course, the idea of “slowing down” is really an illusion as summer is, in fact, a busy time: planting and cultivating, tending and pruning, harvesting and preserving are what it means to do gardening. Walking takes more time and more effort than hopping in the car. As for our first parents, whose work it was to “work … and take care of” the garden (Genesis 2:15, NIV) summer for us is not all sitting in the shade or watching the birds.

Nevertheless, working in the soil, nurturing seedlings and young plants as they grow, picking strawberries or beans or leaves of basil at their peak of flavor and freshness, embody an oneness with God’s creative work, a going with the grain, that seems like life in the slow lane! It is peace as shalom – things as they ought to be.

Living in shalom, aligned with God’s work and purposes, is not just for summer, of course. But, as many of us tend to be outdoors more on warm summer days when daylight extends the available hours, the sense of being – and a need to be – at one with the creation is heightened.

It is at this time that my thoughts return to Psalms 37:3 “dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.” (NIV) This is a call both to faithfulness and to shalom – with the land, and, by extension, with God, ourselves and others.

As we marvel at the beauty of hillsides and streams, a lily-covered marsh, blue birds or dragonflies, we honor and praise and feel closer to the God who made them. As we take the time to see and appreciate unexpected wildflowers nestled in the tall grass, a chipmunk scurrying through the flower beds, the darkening sky yielding a needed rain, we experience peace with and within ourselves – healing from slights or weariness or anxieties. As we grow flowers, fruits and vegetables without poisons or chemicals, walk or bike leaving the car for a few hours, or chat with a stranger we nurture shalom with others and the environment bringing well-being and healthy relationships.

It is in this vein that my wife and I decided to explore the culture, history and natural beauty of our home state of Ohio this summer, to seek and experience shalom close to home. Some may be aware of our love for England with its rich history, culture, and diverse natural beauty. But this year we are seeking out and enjoying God’s creation and human co-creation close to home – waterfalls, beaver dams, historic canals, beautiful gardens, Native American history and culture, and local walking and biking trails.

We are learning to more fully enjoy and be part of this place – the place where we live. We are spending less time getting somewhere and more time being there. And we are being surprised and delighted by what we are finding – a local dairy in a canal-era town that serves “Chocolate Blackout” ice cream, a bed and breakfast in a home built over 150 years ago, a plumed Great Blue Heron almost as tall as we are, and a local man, sitting on a bench outside local shops, eating his lunch and willingly sharing recommendations and directions.

Each venture is brief, but rich. We return home to mow the grass, weed gardens, fix meals, and to do all the “working” and “taking care of” that life requires. But, even then, perhaps with a somewhat heightened sense of awareness, we can enjoy and experience all that God provides.

So, this summer (or any time) seek shalom close to home – for a few days or a couple of hours. Visit a local, state or national park; browse shops and sites in a nearby small town; seek out a trail to hike, bike, or canoe; go to a local farmer’s market or an outdoor concert; strike up a conversation with someone you never met before, and all the while thank God for the richness of His creation and all that it holds close to home.

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