Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Lord is My Sheperd-book review

The Lord is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third PsalmHarold S. KushnerNew York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003, 175pp., $29.95.

This is Kushner's most famous book after Bad Things Happen to Good People and Living a Life that Matters. Kushner's The Lord Is My Sheperd is about practical spirituality, inspiration, and encouragement gleamed from what may be the best-known and best-loved chapter in the Bible: the Twenty-third Psalm. This psalm has been the source of comfort in grief and courage in fear for millennia. In this book, Kushner discusses how we could live according to the strictures of Psalm 23 in our daily lives. Each chapter discusses one line of the psalm in the context of both the tone when it was written and the present day, and illuminates the life lessons that are contained within it. In this review I will discuss a few kernels of his wisdom in this book.
For Kushner, although we cannot control what happens to us, we can always control how we respond to what happens to us. We cannot choose to be lucky, talented or loved. However, we can choose to be grateful, to be ontent with who we are and what we have, and to act accordingly. To say The Lord is my Shepherd is to say that we live in an unpredictable and often terrifying world. It says that there is someone in this world who cares about us and tries to keep us safe. God is the presence that makes our world seem less frightening to us. God's promise is not that we will be safe but that we are never going to be alone. We will hurt, but we will heal. We will grieve, but we will grow whole again. How comforting a message is this!
Human beings often neglect their souls. We need to pause often in order to restore our souls. We must take the necessary time to nourish our souls by taking a Sabbath or insisting on a day of rest on Sunday. When we are most busy, we must define ourselves by something that is beyond our work. After a burst of creativity, we need to replenish our soul. After helping another person in need, we should take the time to restore our souls. God restores our inner strength so that we could carry on and be empathic and helpful to others. God gives us the strength of soul to be human and compassionate. The straight line between us and our goals can have hidden traps or land mines. We are brought into roundabout paths to fulfill our goals. When we repeatedly do an evil action, it becomes a part of our character. When we repeatedly do a good action, the same holds true.
However, we should refuse tragedy and evil to define us. When bad things happen to us, they can cause us to lose faith in God. No one could make it without God. There is evil in the world, but this doesn't matter, because this is part of God's plan. God is beside us in our problems and He is on your side but not on the side of the selfish, deceptive people who are embittering your life. God doesn't explain why this is the case; He simply comforts us. When bad things happen, the challenge is not to explain them, to justify them or even to accept them. The challenge is to survive them and go on living. And they key to surviving misfortune is the realization that, when bad things happen, God is on our side. When we choose to affirm life in the face of loss, to affirm goodness in the face of evil, we are on God's side. He is with us and we are with Him, and the future does not frighten us.
We must be realistic of what we expect from other people too. Some people are false friends because they cannot nourish anyone, including themselves. The source of the problem is within them but not within you. When you feel abandoned by your friends and all alone, pray and you will no longer feel so alone. When human beings fail us, when friends let us down, God is there to renew our strength and give us what we need to go on with our lives with integrity and compassion. Bitter people should not make our lives bitter. If they do we have given them much too much credence. Crabby people will always find reasons to be crabby about anything and everything. They complain because of what they are like. Instead, bitter people shouldn't affect us. Some people are not grateful because of a false sense of entitlement or because they need to feel self-sufficient.They are convinced that they don't need anyone. How sad not to need anyone!
We each have a responsibility to be a messiah in miniature. We each are unique in God's eyes. We have a responsibility of making the world a bit better than it would be without us in it. God is depending on us to do just that. God recognizes us and helps us to feel special. We are the messiah for somebody if not for everybody that we encounter in or daily lives. We are all special in God's eyes. And we should believe this with our whole heart and being. Only in that way can we prosper and raise above evil and human frailty.
Thus, we each should stop pursuing happiness so strenuously and just relax. Goodness and mercy will find their way into our lives if we just have faith that it will. Goodness is feeling good about life and oneself. We should be happy being who we are. We don't have to work hard to be happy, and to feel good about ourselves. We can't let bad things and bad people define us. We can choose to be happy with who we are. Because God is with us, we do find comfort. We are all invited to dwell in God's house and to live in God's presence. All we have to do is rejoice and be glad!

Reviewed by Irene S. Roth
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