Tuesday, July 16, 2013


I always had a bland relationship with Tehillim. I blame it, perhaps a bit cop-out-ish-ly, on a practice from my Bais Yaakov days; periodically, the morahs would grimly circulate laminated booklets of Psalms, which altogether would be the entirety of the sefer, meaning it was said in completion when disseminated amongst a classroom of twenty. But I mumbled and stumbled over the ancient meaningless words, often rushing as I did not have sufficient time. I certainly did not avail of it voluntarily outside of school hours.

Recently, a family member was diagnosed. A few days later, when the news of her illness finally sank in, topped with specific dating aggravation, then layered with bureaucratic red tape that prevented finalizing necessary documents, I felt low. I felt off-balance, my insides gibbering with unresolved chaos. I yearned for a divine blankie, a snuggle from Above, simply put, comfort. 

I scanned the available multitude of Tehillims on the seforim shrank, selecting one with an interlinear translation, and began to slowly enunciate the text (mostly) penned by Dovid HaMelech, one of the few granted the title, "Servant of God." At times his eloquence made my eyes well up. 
Then I felt His presence, His warm and fuzzy security enveloping my overwrought thoughts in soothing consolation. I was at peace, tossed onto level equilibrium from my previously shaky perch. How is it that 3,000 years old compositions can speak to my soul? Dovid didn't pussy-foot about his difficulties; he describes his agonies all-too poetically. But then he concludes on the love of God, the magnitude of God, the salvation of God.   

I have now made my way back to Tehillim. I do not necessarily say it in request, but simply as a means, like telephone or email, to commune with the Almighty, knowing, that in the midst of heartache, succor can be found.

In her articles regarding evangelical Christains, T.H. Luhrman considers the therapeutic benefits of faith in "When God Is Your Therapist." I am not familiar with the methods practiced by flesh-and-blood psychologists beyond humorous scenes in sitcoms, but the basic premise is that one voices their problems to a sympathetic ear.   
A young man — a kind man with two adorable children and a loving wife — died unexpectedly in one of the churches where I spent time. When the pastor spoke in church the following Sunday, he did not try to explain the death. Instead, he told the church to experience God as present. “This is a difficult philosophical issue for Christians,” he said. “We who believe in a loving, personal God who created the earth and can intervene at any time — we have this problem.” His answer? “Creation is beautiful but it is not safe.” He called our everyday reality “broken.” What should you do? Get to know God. “Learn to hang out with him now.”
I saw the same thing at another church, where a young couple lost a child in a late miscarriage. Some months later I spent several hours with them. Clearly numbed, they told me they did not understand why God had allowed the child to die. But they never gave a theological explanation for what happened. They blamed neither their own wickedness nor demons. Instead, they talked about how important it was to know that God had stood by their side
Reaction to difficulty should be like Dovid's, it would seem, whose Psalms provide the same premise: Hashem, I am in pain. I do not know why You have sent me these tests, but I know that they come from love, and that You are with me.

Viewing God as a loving deity as opposed to a fearsome one is good for one's health, as Luhrmann explains in "Why Going to Church is Good for You." 
What I saw in church as an anthropological observer was that people were encouraged to listen to God in their minds, but only to pay attention to mental experiences that were in accord with what they took to be God’s character, which they took to be good. I saw that people were able to learn to experience God in this way, and that those who were able to experience a loving God vividly were healthier — at least, as judged by a standardized psychiatric scale. Increasingly, other studies bear out this observation that the capacity to imagine a loving God vividly leads to better health. 
However, that is only if one sees God as being close and kind, not far and uncaring. 
. . . in one study, when God was experienced as remote or not loving, the more someone prayed, the more psychiatric distress she seemed to have; when God was experienced as close and intimate, the more someone prayed, the less ill he was. In another study, at a private Christian college in Southern California, the positive quality of an attachment to God significantly decreased stress and did so more effectively than the quality of the person’s relationships with other people.   
It all comes down to: 
. . . God is a relationship, not an explanation. 
As I now cling to this random Tehillim found in my den, I idly flip the first few pages. Apparently, this was given to each student by my Bais Yaakov graduation. That which I have blamed, has provided. 


Yocheved said...

Your family member should have a refuah sheleimah, and b'soros tovos from here on out!


Princess Lea said...

Amen! Thanks! (Air kiss)