John Dear, SJby Rev. John Dear, S.J.
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

Editor’s note: This meditation is the third of a five-part summer series on the peace writings in the psalms.

“Come, children, listen to me. I will teach you awe for the God of peace. Who among you loves life, takes delight in prosperous days? Keep your tongue from evil, your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.” (Ps. 34: 12-15)

Psalm 34 was the daily prayer of my friend and teacher of nonviolence, Billy Neal Moore, during his nearly two decades on Georgia’s death row. He was granted clemency in 1990 and now ministers to prisoners in Georgia. Throughout the 1980s, during our near-weekly correspondence, he often wrote about Psalm 34 as his guide to the God of peace and the way of nonviolence. He taught me the beauty and power of Psalm 34, how it can be a guide for us through the door way to peace.

The psalm is a poem. Each line begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Its message and teaching are so simple that we can easily miss its life-changing wisdom. I suppose it would take the daily attention of a prisoner over the course of 20 years to realize it as a path to peace and the God of peace. It reads as a hymn of praise, a guide to daily living, an invitation to wisdom, and a testimony to God’s liberation of the poor and oppressed.

The first part is an invitation to join in praising the God of peace:

“I will bless the God of peace at all times; praise shall be always in my mouth. My soul will glory in the God of peace that the poor may hear and be glad. Magnify the God of peace with me.” (Ps. 34:2-4)

Luke probably used this psalm as a basis for Mary’s Magnificat. Both offer a hymn of praise, political denunciation of the rich and powerful, and a call for justice and liberation of the poor. “The powerful grow poor and hungry, but those who seek the God of peace lack no good thing,” we read in verse 11. There is the promise for those who seek the God of peace: Everything we need will be provided for…

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