Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 8, 2003
Rabbi unfolds wisdom within the 23rd Psalm
The Lord is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom from the Twenty-Third Psalm, by Harold Kushner, by Harold Kushner,. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, NY. 2003. 175 pages. Hardcover.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
Probably no chapter in any collection of writings is more familiar and treasured than these six verses from the book of Psalms in the Hebrew Bible.
Jews and Christians together share this passage to gain comfort and courage at crucial moments in life or when confronted with the reality of death. Laypersons of both faiths are as apt to refer to these verses as are their priests and rabbis.
Harold Kushner, rabbi laureate of Temple Israel in Natick Mass., who 20 years ago wrote the spectacularly famous When Bad Things Happen to Good People, continues his writing career into retirement with this his ninth book The Lord is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom from the Twenty-Third Psalm.
It is an exquisite aide for people living through difficult times.
Kushner confirms a lifelong love of this text but admits that as he has grown older, many of the meanings found here have evolved for him.
Time and experience have a way of evoking different insights from the same words. The author concurs with Paul Tillich, the famous Protestant theologian of the last century: "When I was 17 I believed in God. Now that I am 70, I still believe in God, but not in the same God."
What he means, of course, is not that God has changed but his understanding of God. Rather than implying lost faith we might say that what we have to dispose of is a childish conception in order to assume something more mature.
Here then, is a line-by-line interpretation of Scripture with magical power to provide people with comfort in the midst of the confusion and chaos of living. For those who react to the events of 9/11, for example, questioning: "How could these things happen?"
Kushner repeats wisdom from his previous books.
Life is not fair, and we fool ourselves when we play mind games and assume that if we try to live moral and upright lives, God will reciprocate by protecting and rewarding us.
Rather than preserving us from life's injustices, God accompanies us through the unfairness that comes our way and helps us reinterpret what has happened.
Kushner is particularly poignant when commenting on key phrases such as "though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me," and "He restores my soul."
Whole sermons and other devotional meditations can be constructed from any one of these profound lines.
Kushner claims a lot of gratitude at this point in his life. No phrase in the psalm more effectively describes his feelings than "my cup runneth over."
He encourages us to join him in praise of a God who continues to give life purpose. The desire to possess more is natural.
What is most important, though, is not to have more things but to have things to look forward to.
Gratitude, he says, is the most religious emotion. We need to come to a place where we can authentically say: "I have gotten more from life than I had the right to demand."
"I have written this book," he concludes, "so that people would be more aware of the gratitude expressed in Psalm 23."
Small gems and great ones too can be discovered here. This book is a worthy addition to the author's contribution to spiritual literature in our time.
(Wayne Holst is a parish educator at St. Davids United Church, Calgary. He has taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary.)