Thinking as a Barrier to, and Presence as Broker of, Shalom

By Steve Wickham

DIVISIONS separate Jesus-believers and nonbelievers the world over.

But those same divisions also cause Christ-believers to fight each other, and this has never been so evident as through the age of highly visual, codifiable social media, especially around ethics within God’s kingdom here on earth.

And on all sides of every debate are dualistic, all-or-nothing, I-am-right-you-are-wrong thinkers. We’re all guilty. We all partake in what the AAs call ‘stinking thinking’. Despite Jesus’ final command: love one another. Richard Rohr teaches that we’re all, by default, either-or thinkers. We’re geared to decide, and thought that ponders for decision is the antithesis of the contemplative experience: to just be — could be called, a state of shalom.

Thinking is shown as a barrier to shalom, yet contemplation is the broker of Presence.

It’s simple to illustrate the thinking that impedes our journey toward shalom. Think of me, or this article, or the way it’s presented, or something on this page you disagree with, or with the amount of engagement the article creates (little or much). Chances are, in some way(s), you’re saying ‘no’ to something, judging something, without even being aware of it. Maybe you’re too positive. We all do it. The mind is dualistic by nature, especially in the modern West. The more knowledge has puffed us up (1 Corinthians 8:1), the more degrees we have the worse it can get, lessened is our capacity to be freely open of mind and heart.

The dualistic mind has the default, ‘no’. It is negatively autonomic. We don’t typically come to new things with a ‘yes’ or ‘can do’ attitude by intuitive default. We’ve learned to judge, and unfortunately, we do it with light-speed efficiency. And we get stuck in judging the smallest detail and then, because of the prominence of indignation, our attention gets caught there. Our thinking distracts our attention and derails our focus.

But as Jesus-followers we know judging is sin. We ought to know our thinking is the problem, and we need to submit our thinking to the Spirit’s overhaul. We may invest in the spiritual practice of contemplation. So, we learn to approach God in silence, and silence becomes our cherished prayer language. And God speaks! Always through silence.

Engaging in contemplative prayer is how we enrol ourselves in the school of God’s Presence, and achieving shalom is for dux students. It requires us to attain the skill of shutting down our mind to experience shalom. It involves shutting down the mind in the mode of surrender, departing from the cognitive, thoughts falling away, by engaging in intentional, even determined rest that becomes a practice.

Try and experience shalom when you watch sport or broadcast news or anything competitive on television — it’s impossible. Our thinking is so automatically invested in what we’ve already decided to think. It’s the same when we seek peace amid distraction. Frustration ensues. We need to organise our environment, making it conducive to rest.

Presence is the broker of shalom. It’s achieved when, in contemplation, there is freedom to experience the present, through freedom from thought.

When we practice Presence, experiencing shalom, God counsels us, and we become less judgmental, more able to deploy wisdom in our daily lives. And what emerges is the fruit of the Spirit so we’re able to love one another.