I still remember my first reading of the famous Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want."
I stumbled upon this text while browsing through the rich library of my priest-friend. The book of Psalms I was holding in my hands was small and tattered, with many notes and exclamation marks in the margins.
I opened the first page and found out that this was not a standard translation. This selection of psalms was translated by Roman Brandstetter, a Polish poet and writer, the last surviving grandson of a devout Jewish rabbi.
I noticed also that there was a peculiar quality to this translation — if you read the text quickly enough, but not in haste, you would begin to sway gently, almost dance to the internal music of the words. You felt like lifting your arms in joy, shouting with joy.
Green pastures would appear before the eyes of your soul and crystal clear waters, restful and life-giving, would flow beside them. The translator understood the text so well. It was like magic.
Branstetter's whole family perished in concentration camps. Cast about by wartime currents, heartbroken, the poet found himself in the Holy Land - and this is where he converted to Christianity. Like many great converts, he never ceased to praise God and Jesus Christ through his writing, yet remained faithful to his Jewish heritage.
How did this man, so deeply wounded by war, deprived of family, friends and home, a man who could be called Job rather than David, manage to express God's limitless joy and tender love and do it so well?
I pondered this obvious inconsistency one dark night when all the powers of hell seemed to be storming my soul. I had witnessed great grief in my family and I was completely powerless and unable to help. All my fervent prayers seemed to bounce off heaven's door.
All my human resources were used up. My hands were empty, my heart was empty and I could not find even the simplest prayer in my mind. I was all alone — in total darkness. Somewhere, within the black heart of that darkness, blasphemy and desperation were lurking and approaching me with the temptation known to Job, "Curse God and die."
And then I remembered the 23rd psalm and the heartbroken Brandstetter, the Polish Jew who met Jesus, not on the verdant pastures or by quiet waters, not at "the table spread out in the sight of foes," but at the very bottom of the "dark valley" of his life.
With enormous effort I called upon Jesus to come and embrace my pain and the darkness itself. It is a great honour and privilege to meet the Lord in the dark valley of life, because this is where he resides most truly — on his cross. This is where the brotherhood of God and man is being forged.
Christ has walked every inch of the dark valley of humanity and is still walking it. He will be walking it until the world's end, so that not a single human being is ever alone in the darkness of grief, depression, mental illness, mourning, in the gloom of any kind of loss, pain and fear. This is where we can truly show him that we love him too.
You and I may not see him, may not be even able to talk to him, paralyzed as we are sometimes by pain and fear — but he is there for us. Always.
He is there and he will lead us out of that darkness and "we shall live in the house of the Lord" forever.