Sunday, January 01, 2017

My word for 2017: Peace

     Before considering a word for 2017, I looked back at my words from the last several years. I began in 2010 with tranquil. An odd choice given the way subsequent years have unfolded. Tranquil is probably the last adjective I would choose looking back. Exciting, tumultuous, and unpredictable are better choices. Hindsight is 20/20, I suppose.
      The years that followed featured works and ideas that I could control. Contentment and connectedness are things I still strive to make part of my life. I try to be intentional about the decisions I make because I know my decisions affect my contentment and connectedness. Identity was my word for 2015 as I sought to find my second half self as I turned 50. Seeking a new identity continues as my children start their independent lives and I pursue a PhD in Teaching and Learning. That identity, built on the core of faith and family, is still evolving. In a sense, I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.
     I chose two words for 2016, and the pair did manifest as I spent a good deal of time reflecting and responding to a number of challenges. I found myself walking a tightrope between my liberal and conservative friends during a dreadful election cycle. I try to balance support and wisdom when my girls ask my opinion about decisions they are making, whether or not I agree with the direction they choose. I love them no matter what. I struggled to find my academic voice through heavy course loads (my own fault). In all the reflecting and responding to the challenges of 2016, I shape my next adult identity.
     2017 is looking to be a challenging year, with a number of significant events happening academically and personally. I can control little about how any occasion unfolds, and there is potential for great joy or devastation.  In the past my decisions largely determined my steps. This year, it is the decisions of others that mark my path, and that is unnerving.
     What I think I really will need this year is peace. I already know there will be chaos around me. I anticipate times of frustration and conflict based just on what is already on the calendar. I will pray for the best outcome and my own reflective and wise responses, but without having a sense of control over the events ahead, internal peace will not come naturally. If you know anything about me, you will know that I like to have some control and that I am quick to insecurity and anxiety if my voice is unheard. Knowing part of what 2017 holds already constricts my breathing, and I feel unsettled about how to approach the future. Peace, then, must be priority.
      Years ago I learned a song about God's perfect peace based on Isaiah 26:3:

“A person whose desire rests on you

you preserve in perfect peace,
because he trusts in you.
Trust in Adonai forever,
because in Yah Adonai,
is a Rock of Ages.”
The passage was written by Isaiah for the people of Israel while in captivity and slavery to the Assyrian Empire around 750 BC (Ross, 2004). The theme of this group of prophecies (chapters 24-27) is a coming judgment followed by a promise of redemption and protection. Chapter 26 is a call to remain faithful no matter what the circumstances. For the Hebrew people, slavery endured through the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, not ending until Cyrus the Great defeated Babylon and permitted the Jews to return to Israel and rebuild their temple.
      Part of Isaiah's prophecies in this and surrounding chapters are general enough for scholars to include them in messianic prophecies (Ross, 2004). Messianic prophecies look forward to a golden age, after the earth is purged of sin and the Messiah reigns in a New Jerusalem. The messiah as Prince of Peace is declared in the last part of Isaiah (chapters 49-57), extending grace to all who trust in Him, regardless of position as Gentile or Jew (Ross). Matthew Henry (1708) explained that the prophecy was composed for all people of all ages, including those "upon whom the ends of the world have come."  I look at the world around me and sometimes wonder whether we are entering that age of the end as told in Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Matthew, and Revelation. Children rise up against parents, nations threaten war, climate change is altering the landscape, and it is sometimes frightening to be a Christian living in a post-truth world. Even if the time of the end is still far away, these are certainly perilous times wherein truth is exchanged for falsehoods and facts are turned upside-down to strengthen the power of world leaders. On a personal level, these challenges reach into my family, my research, my daily life as I traverse a line between liberal and conservative, secular and sacred, and fear of the unknown wherever I go.
     The importance of this particular verse for me comes in the word יצר yētser, translated in the Complete Jewish Bible here as desire. Most translators choose the English word, mind. The exact meaning of the Hebrew text is closest to the idea of something that is formed, created, or devised. Anything formed by the mind, like thoughts, ideas, or imaginings, when focused on the Creator God, will not be threatened or shaken by calamity (Barnes, 1983). This is something I can control because I form my thoughts based on the identity I claim as beloved child of the Father. Whether life is tranquil (maybe one day) or chaotic (much of the time these days), I can be confident that Yah Adonai is with me. When I keep the circumstances around me in context with a desire to seek after Truth, even in a post-truth world, I can have peace.
     In my own life, then, I need to keep my mind so focused on the Lord that whatever comes my way cannot cause anxiety, but rather increase the peace that He promises to give, perfect peace.

Barnes, A. (1983). Barnes' notes on Isaiah 26. Retrieved from
Complete Jewish Bible. (1998). Retrieved from
Henry, M. (1708).  Isaiah 26. Retrieved from
Ross, A. (2004). Introduction to the study of Isaiah. Retrieved from

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