Reflections on peace, freedom and serving others: Independence Day weekend and themes from Galatians.

Lessons from last week’s Peace & empowerment Camp! Combined with themes for Independence Day week and text from Galatians.


Aloha means hello, goodbye, welcome, and love. Each of these aspects of aloha are shown through people and nature. When you use aloha you are not only sending someone off. Aloha means “I wish you the best,” and “Take love with you.”  Aloha is a blessing of love and belonging.

Reflections on Aloha:

  • If you could draw or imagine “peace” as a place you carry inside you,
    like a home inside your heart, how would you draw it or describe it?
  • When has someone especially welcomed you? Tell that story.
  • When have you made someone else feel welcome? Write about it.

Reflections on Aloha

What do different traditions say about ‘welcome’?

The Buddhist nun Pema Chodron writes, “The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough … to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes.”

In Christianity, the Gospel of Matthew suggests that whenever we offer welcome and kindness to someone else, we are also offering kindness and compassion to Godself. “‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”

Rabbi Dianne Cohler Esses writes, “Hospitality is a powerful way to model kindness. Opening one’s home to others is a way for people to share with one another the uniqueness of who they are and the blessings they have. Abraham … though he is in the midst of a conversation with God, he surprisingly interrupts it to welcome three strangers he sees from afar. He begs them to stay awhile and have a morsel of bread and some water. Meanwhile, he and Sarah prepare a sumptuous meal for them. Abraham promises little but delivers much. He is a humble yet generous host. Being humble and grateful for your blessings can make a guest feel comfortable in your home. Helping someone feel at home can go a long way toward forming and deepening friendships.”

Rumi, the mystic Muslim poet, writes, “This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice: meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

The Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, says, “What you have taken, has been from here. What you gave has been given here. What belongs to you today, belonged to someone yesterday, and will be someone else’s tomorrow.” It also states, “The man who sees me in everything and everything within me will not be lost to me, nor will I ever be lost to him. He who is rooted in oneness realizes that I am in every being; wherever he goes, he remains in me.”


Shalom is a Hebrew word said as “hello” or “goodbye.” Shalom also means peace. In many ways, saying shalom means peace in all three settings, and what a beautiful way to say hello or goodbye —offering to the other person peace.

Reflections on Shalom 

One Jewish educational resource states, “The ancient Hebrew concept of peace, rooted in the word shalom, meant wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety and prosperity, carrying with it the implication of permanence … Rabbi Robert Kahn of Houston, TX, capsulizes the distinctives of ‘Roman’ peace and ‘Hebrew’ shalom:

  • One can dictate a peace; shalom is a mutual agreement.
  • “Peace is a temporary pact; shalom is a permanent agreement.
  • “One can make a peace treaty; shalom is the condition of peace.
  • “Peace can be negative, the absence of commotion.
    Shalom is positive, the presence of serenity.
  • “Peace can be partial; shalom is whole.
  • “Peace can be piecemeal; shalom is complete.”

It continues, “Peace is a positive thing, the essential means by which … differing temperaments and opinions can work together for the common good. Pearls of individual virtue would be dim in isolation were it not for the string of peace that binds them together and so increases their luster. That is why peace is a name of God for it is He who gives unity to the whole of creation.”

In John 14:27, we hear a Gospel viewpoint, “Shalom I leave with you. My shalom I give to you; not as the world gives, give I to you. Don’t let your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful.”

Vietnamese Buddhist priest and founder of ‘engaged Buddhism’ Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.”

Questions about Shalom

  • Is your peace rooted inside your heart and soul, or dictated by external relationships and conditions?
  • When do you feel most whole or complete in your life, in the world, in your relationships?
  • What helps you regain balance and feel more whole?

Ubuntu’s most attributed meaning in the Zulu language, as used in South Africa, is “I am because we are.”  It focuses on communal relations.

Reflections on Ubuntu:

One Native American poet, Paula Gunn Allen, wrote about the inter-connectedness of humanity and creation. She said, “Snowflakes, leaves, humans, plants, raindrops, stars, molecules, microscopic entities all come in communities. The singular cannot in reality exist.”

A former president of the USA observed, “There is a word in South Africa – ubuntu – that describes … recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.”

Christian practice and teachings emphasizes holistic connection to other people. In  Matthew 22: 39b, Christ says, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Loving your neighbor doesn’t just mean having respect and compassion for the person who lives next door, but other people, too … as the adage goes, ‘Strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet.”

Bishop Desmond Tutu, who worked for peace and reconciliation in South Africa, writes, “Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world.”

Anti-Apartheid activist and president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela said, “In Africa there is a concept known as ubuntu – the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievement of others.”
One Jewish teacher noted, when reflecting on ubuntu, “Hillel, the Jewish sage, is frequently quoted as having said: “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only or myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Vietnamese Buddhist priest Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “We look deeply and we see that father and son, father and daughter, mother and son, mother and daughter, corn seed and cornstalk, have a very close relationship. … we inter-are. … we and all living beings are made of the same nature, how can there be division between us? … look deeply into the nature of things … inter-being. We find peace and can generate the strength we need to be in touch with everything. With this understanding, we can easily sustain the work of loving and caring for the Earth and for each other for a long time.”

Questions about ubuntu: What artists, writers, coaches, teachers or other people have influenced you?If you could meet one person from another time, who has affected your life, who would you choose to meet and why?What is a gift, talent, strength or blessing that you offer to your ‘circles of belonging’ such as your family, team, class, club, school, faith community, or other groups?How many different groups or communities or teams can you name to which you belong?How does each of these ‘circles of belonging’ shape who you are?


The Japanese use the kanji characters 平和.
Kanji is the original Chinese characters and the first 平 (hei) means flat, or smooth, and 和 (wa) means harmony. Having smoothness and harmony describes the state of being a peaceful society, so that is probably the reason for the origin of the word. In China they write it 和平 (“hebin” pronounced and sounding more like ‘her-bin’ ). As you can see, the characters are just reversed so it would mean harmonious and smooth—the same.

Reflections on Heiwa

Considering the connection between inner peace and outer peace, here are some thoughts about heiwa from different perspectives and spiritual traditions.

A Peace Bell in the Peace Park in Hiroshima was given to Japan as a gift from the Greek Consulate. The bell includes an ancient Greek phrase along with its translation in Japanese and Sanskrit. The inscription says “ΓΝΩΘΙ ΣΑΥΤΟΝ,” which means “Know thyself.” The quotation comes from the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. This quotation, placed on the Peace Bell, prompts people to consider inner peace — knowing oneself — as a connection to outward and worldly peace.

In music theory, harmony is a combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes made to produce chords and chord progressions that have a pleasing effect.
In the letter to Colossians, Paul writes to the community, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Later in that same letter, he adds, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” In another letter, to the Romans, he writes, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
The mystic Muslim poet Rumi wrote, “The life of this world is nothing but the harmony of opposites.”

In Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist settlement, Plum Village: “Poetic couplets … are an ancient tradition in the East … a reminder to practice mindfulness. The couplet can be combined with our breathing. For example, we can contemplate “Harmony in our Home” as we breathe in, and contemplate “Joy in the World” as we breathe out.”

Questions about Heiwa
Who do you know who models harmony or ‘inner peace’? What can you learn from that person?
Who do you know who is a peace-worker in your community? What can you learn from that person?


The “official” translation for sí se puede® is “Yes, it can be done.” Or “yes, it’s possible!” The phrase was coined by Cesar Chavez and his partner, Dolores Huerta, during the 1972 25-day fast. It echoes the struggle of working-class Latinos who were fighting for fair labor conditions in the 1970s and has been used more recently at immigration reform marches.
Reflections on Si Se Puede

Spiritual practices help us choose why we engage the world and work to make it better. Below are some different ways that spiritual traditions reinforce or echo the social justice movement inspired by Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez.

The mystic poet Rumi reminds us, ““The garden of the world has no limits, except in your mind.”

Tikkun Olam is a Jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world. The phrase is found in the Mishnah, a body of classical rabbinic teachings. It signifies issues of social policy that safeguard those who may be at a disadvantage in the community. In contemporary times, tikkun olam also means social action and the pursuit of social justice.

Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh wrote this poem: Interrelationship. “You are me, and I am you. Isn’t it obvious that we “inter-are”? You cultivate the flower in yourself, so that I will be beautiful. I transform the garbage in myself, so that you will not have to suffer. I support you; you support me. I am in this world to offer you peace; you are in this world to bring me joy.” Change is possible because we are all connected!
In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ challenges his followers to think big and use their imaginations. He says, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” He expects people to be partners with their Creator to make the world better for other people and all of Creation: to live, pray, play, work, and serve in ways that help and heal.

Black Elk, an Oglala Siuox holy man, describes how people are connected to the world and each other. “The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Taka (the Great Spirit) and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this. The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is thart which is made between two nations,. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is known that true peace, which, as I have ofren said, is within the souls of men.”

Questions about Si Se Puede:
What do you consider to be peace work? What issues in our community might contribute to social and political peace?
What seems impossible now, that you believe might become possible?

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