He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
I still remember my first encounter with this verse. It was at this monument to peace outside the United Nations. Across the street from the General Assembly building. It is engraved on the foundation stone. I was with a group of students who were studying at the United Nations for a semester. This day was our introduction to the General Assembly and we were exploring on a break. I recall standing in front of this statue transfixed by the thought and the beauty of the man. I was 20 years old at the time. Fresh out of the country side of Vermont. I stood there for a long, long time … drinking it in. And I’ve never forgotten it.
I remember very, very little from that semester. There are moments that I’ve captured. The moment that I think I was very nearly arrested at the Romanian mission was one … they just did not believe I was merely seeking information about their country’s response to the Law of the Sea treaty! The day I spent at Central Park listening to the first Simon & Garfunkle reunion concert was another. The moment I first saw this statue was a third.
The fright at the Romanian mission and the Simon & Garfunkle concert have remained interesting and titillating memories. But the moment before the statue changed something deep in my soul. At the time, I had not had enough exposure to Biblical literature to understand that the “poem” came from scripture. It was quite simply breathtaking. It stayed with me for years and years. I remembered it and it whispered in the deep places of my mind for a decade until I read the Bible for the first time.
Ironically, the statue was a gift to the United Nations from the (then) Soviet Union in 1959. I say, ironically, because the Soviet Union is/was known for being atheist. So it is ironic to me that a statue dedicated to peace would have Judeo-Christian scripture engraved upon it.
I’ve been thinking about that scripture quite a bit this week. It was one of the scriptures we read during our advent candle lighting last Sunday. I found it interesting. Last Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent, was the Sunday of Hope. I’ve been wondering why this reading from Isaiah 2 was included. It seems to be more synchronous with the second Sunday, the Sunday of Peace.
I’ve also been thinking about how to go about keeping the peace. About the nitty-gritty, if you will, of peaceful living. Living at at peace with my fellow men and women with whom I’m walking the earth. Ohhhh … there are days when beating swords into plowshares seems like the easy button.
As I have been going about my days this phrase, “swords into plowshares” has been fluttering around my head beating against the edges like a caged butterfly. They resound inside my head and there is, as Aslan might say, a deeper magic there. I think I might have found some of it finally as I was driving to (or was it fro) the rink the other day.
We think of war and think of killing, bombs, guns, destruction, death. We think of ugliness. Often in movies I’ve noticed that times of war and war scenes are subtly shot in greyed out colors, stark, brutal.
What is the opposite of war? Peace. How do we think of peace? What do we imagine a peaceful existence to look like? Have we, as a culture or community, ever imagined peace?
People joke about it. But we cannot truly envision it. Some of us Jesus-y types speak in erudite terms about the Kingdom of God and we think glow-y thoughts. We know the glimpses of it when we see it, but we don’t know how to define it. We want to bring it closer, but know that we cannot … not on our own. So what is the opposite of war? Peace. What does that look like?
Plowshares. It looks like plowshares. It finally hit me. Peace looks like plowshares.
For those of you who are currently thinking, “Girlfrien’s done lost her pea-pickin’ mind,” give me a minute or two. First, you’re probably wondering what a plowshare is. A plowshare is the metal/iron part of the plow that actually digs up the dirt, breaks up the clods, and prepares the ground for planting. It generally has to be sort of sharp, not like a sword, but it has to be sharpened for each use as well. So turning swords into plowshares is not as unlikely as it seems. At the time that the words were spoken, both were made of the same material (iron) and forged by the same guy (blacksmith). This held true for many hundreds of years afterwards.
I started to think about what a plowshare could stand for, now that we are not an agrarian society any longer. Plowshares … they are the source. They allow creativity, development, beauty, art and ultimately, life. They could be an icon for fullness, life, food, community, family (a person cannot plow alone), health. We have talked about peace for so long that we no longer really know what it means. It is ephemeral, evanescent, fugitive and flitting. It dances around the edges of our consciousness and taunts us with it’s shadow.
Looking for peace. Looking for signs of the plowshare. Places where swords have been consciously put down and redeemed into the icons of those things that can give humans back their gifts. Where people are redeemed and not sacrificed to
Baal, er, the system. That’s what I’m looking for this season. Sometimes I see it peeking around the corner at me. I’m still working on my definition. But at least this year, I’m beginning to know what I’m looking for.
Redeeming the Season is the Topic for this month’s SynchroBlog. Now there are a variety of seasons being celebrated at the end of each year from Christmas to Hannukah to Eid al-Adha and Muharram, from the Winter Solstice to Kwanzaa and Yule. Some people celebrate none of these seasonal holydays, and do so for good reason. Below is a variety of responses to the subject of redeeming the season. From the discipline of simplicity, to uninhibited celebration, to refraining from celebrating, to celebrating another’s holyday for the purpose of cultural identification the subject is explored. Follow the links below to “Redeeming the Season.” For more holidays to consider see here
Recapturing the Spirit of Christmas at Adam Gonnerman’s Igneous Quill
Swords into Plowshares at Sonja Andrew’s Calacirian
Fanning the Flickering Flame of Advent at Paul Walker’s Out of the Cocoon
Lainie Petersen at Headspace
Eager Longing at Elizaphanian
The Battle Rages at Bryan Riley’s Charis Shalom
Secularizing Christmas at JohnSmulo.com
There’s Something About Mary at Hello Said Jenelle
Geocentric Versus Anthropocentric Holydays at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
Celebrating Christmas in a Pluralistic Society at Erin Word’s Decompressing Faith
Redeeming the season — season of redemption by Steve Hayes
Remembering the Incarnation at Alan Knox’ The Assembling of the Church
A Biblical Response to a Secular Christmas by Glenn Ansley’s Bad Theology
Happy Life Day at The Agent B Files
What’s So Bad About Christmas? at Julie Clawson’s One Hand Clapping