by Anna Madsen–

Shalom is a word that is broad in the extreme. It has to do with wholeness, with fulfillment. Shalom paints a vision of the way things will one day be with all hands helping. Shalom knows of a lion lying down with a lamb, of the thirsty having drink, the hungry having food, the naked being clothed. Shalom knows of swords being beaten into plowshares, of justice and freedom. Shalom knows of strangers being welcomed, the sick and imprisoned being visited. Shalom knows of sorrow and tears disappearing and death being no more. Shalom’s agenda is liberation and reconciliation. Shalom has as its agenda love, hope and renewal. Shalom has as its agenda [ending] drought and famine…and hatred…prejudice and oppression…sickness and suffering.

In my dining room hangs a framed and matted lithograph by William Benson, a now-retired art professor at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. It is in grey, cream and charcoal hues. In five-inch tall capital letters, a be-shadowed word, SHALOM, asserts itself on a stripe of black. Between the L and the O flies a dove with a gentle, thin-lined heart drawn in the middle. Above and below the SHALOM are selected words from a May 27, 1984, sermon preached by my father.

My father’s sermons were not for the faint of heart, or rather, not for the faint of intellect or query. You know how Mark says that after Jesus was baptized, the Spirit “drove him out into the wilderness,” in fairly dramatic opposition to Luke, who says that the Spirit led him there? Well, Dad’s pulpit words drove people to think. His adult education classes led them there, but Dad’s sermons drove them there.

He was not exactly reticent about making the case that the Word of God is, that the Gospel declares, that we are called to have solidarity with the oppressed, that power is found not in weapons but in love, and that we are free to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

My delight in theology, my passion for questions, my conviction that faith and life are intertwined, and my joy and hope in grace come from my father.

My father’s words from 1984 still reverberate through to today’s tenor of disharmony, disarray, disorientation, distrust and disillusionment. Yet they also resonate with the possibility that there might just be another way, and it might be possible to live out of that other way even now.

As I understand the story, after William Benson heard my father preach that May, the lithograph on my wall, SHALOM, was born. My father, my sister and I each have copies.

This Father’s Day, in gratitude for my father’s wisdom, in thanksgiving that his birth made the world a better place, italicized on this page are a few words of proclamation to edify our spirits from the good Rev. Dr. George H.O. Madsen.

We are not bound by our own lives, our own deaths, but live within the great parenthesis of Shalom.

Shalom is the shape of the future, the vision of that to which a mysterious power summons us all here and now, in the role of servant, in bringing and establishing justice and freedom, grace and peace. The servant will be masterfully taught all things. Shalom is our human legacy, given to us in a state of fearlessness and without a troubled heart.

The Rev. Dr. Anna Madsen is a freelance theologian and proud mama to daughter, Else, and son, Karl. She works with OMG: Center for Theological Conversation ( and enjoys seeing the occasional moose and bear in their woods.

This article is from the June 2019 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.

More like this:

The language of our hearts

by Sarah Carson— My friend, Katie, revels in the change of seasons—especially summer into fall. Years ago when we worked together in Chicago, we often walked outside for lunch, and she’d delight in the changing leaves. “Katie,” I’d complain, “Fall means summer is...

read more

Love my enemies, too?!

by Angela T. Khabeb--Jesus encourages us to us to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28).I recently took part in a pastoral leadership class led by a university professor...

read more

Making room for each other and God’s spirit

by Elizabeth Hunter--Sometimes I wish I could spend every day at the beach, with its bright sunshine, seagull cries and undulating waves. Especially when I don’t feel the sense of community I crave. Especially when God feels hidden or I’m tempted to just...

read more