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Teaching Biblical Peace in the Land of the Lekil Kuxlejal

by Rev. Dr. Amaury Tañón-Santos


November 28, 2012

Teaching Biblical Peace in the Land of the Lekil Kuxlejal

Dr. Amaury Tañón-Santos is the Director of Programs at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, NJ and is a Board Member of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. Amaury taught a class on Pauline Literature and Peace at the Mayan Intercultural Seminary (SIM, the Spanish acronym) in June, 2012.

Rev. Dr. Amaury Tañón-Santos

I was elated when I received the invitation from the academic coordinator of SIM, The Rev. Dr. Doris García, to teach a course about biblical peace as found in Pauline literature. The course was going to be taught in a land I’ve only read about – a land I knew at a distance. This project was developed in partnership with the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, and I also received support – in time and library resources – from Princeton Theological Seminary. These teaching ministry partnerships were essential for this experience that, in the end, ended up teaching me more than what I expect was learned in the classroom.

Students at the Mayan Intercultural Seminary (SIM) in Chiapas, Mexico

The objective of this course, Pauline Literature and Peace, was to acquire a better understanding of the literature written by and attributed to the apostle St. Paul. Likewise, we also hoped to seek out how the concept of peace is developed. We presumed that the term “peace,” as used in Christian theology and seen in the Christian Scriptures, is a term that requires more than a simple translation or definition. Properly said, the Hebrew term shalom, the Greek term eirene, the latin term pax, and its Spanish descendent paz, all have common meanings. Nevertheless, under careful scrutiny, we can see particular cultural and historical uses of these terms. The exegetical endeavors and even the hermeneutical interactions require us to approach the sacred texts, not just as a mere labor of literary or contextual translation, but also with the ability to throw ourselves into the complex adventure of intercultural interpretation and interaction with the biblical texts, contexts and our own environments.

And so, I threw myself, together with close to 20 college- and certificate-level students, into the labor of intercultural interpreting and interacting. And on day one I realized that after much preparation I had forgotten a context essential to my students. As an opening exercise, I requested for students in the college-level course to write a short paper defining the Hebrew, Greek and Spanish terms for peace.

During the presentation, two of the students also reflected on the meaning in their native languages (Tzotzil and Tseltal, respectively) – mentioning terms like slamalil k’inal, jun otonal, ta ma jem k’op, xi muyu bá, and lekil kuxlejal.

Students at the Mayan Intercultural Seminary (SIM) in Chiapas, Mexico

Some meant global peace, as represented in the absence of war (such as the way we define peace in English, Spanish and Greek). Others made reference to calmness and serenity. But none were as close to our use of the biblical term shalom as lekil kuxlejal.

The absence of serenity here has been a growing situation since the second half of the 20th Century. The contemporary philosophies of development (such as the industrialization and multi-nationalizing of the markets), contrasted with the cosmology of the original peoples, have led to armed conflicts: the militarization of the forest areas of Chiapas, the Zapatista insurrection of the ‘90s, the arming and development of paramilitary groups, and indiscriminate massacres. Many of the current students at the SIM have lived through the development of the conflict, and some have even lived in the midst of it. These circumstances have, inevitably, influenced the way they perceive life. Yet, as the course progressed, it was evident that the armed conflict is not the only defining element of their contexts.

Students at the Mayan Intercultural Seminary (SIM) in Chiapas, Mexico

Although most of the students are native Chiapanecos/as, not all of them self-identify as indigenous. But they all havea story to tell regarding life during and after the conflict. This conflict is most certainly a part of who they are. Yet, their profession of faith in Jesus Christ, and their knowledge of, what we call in the West, the “Mayan cosmology” (whether attained first hand, or later in life) is as much as part of their lives as anything else.

Lekil kuxlejal is much more than calmness or the absence of conflict. Much like shalom, as seen in Jewish theology and its Christian interpretations, lekil kuxlejal promotes the goal for safety, prosperity, health, and regeneration of the whole self – spirit, body and soul. Yet, beyond this understanding of shalom, lekil kuxlejal also presumes that this regeneration of the self is not for the sake of the individual; not even for humans alone. To seek health, prosperity and wellbeing, as lekil kuxlejal invites us to, is not to merely a holistic search, but a transcendent one. It is cosmic. To act for peace – for lekil kuxlejal – is fundamentally a search on behalf of the family, the community, the environment, and even the whole of the universe.

Maestro de Paz: Jesús, el camino al shalom (Peaceteacher: Jesus' Way of Shalom). Written by former BPFNA Board Member Stephen Jones.

The Christian experience of these, our kin that live in search for the lekil kuxlejal, has not been one of conversion – as if they had changed one way of being or thinking for another. To the contrary, I would argue, to the students in the SIM, particularly those who grew up hearing the stories that make up the Mayan cosmology, that coming to the faith in Christ has been an affirmation of the ideologies they have already known. The object of their search has not changed.


What they have found is yet another instrument to find lekil kuxlejal. And so they continue the search, now with the stories of Jesus, the Nazarene.

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