Ps. 23: Why I Wrote PsalmSongs

Gaya Aranoff Bernstein is a professor of pediatric endocrinology who has been on the faculty of Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons for over 30 years. She lives and works in New York City. Psalmsongs, A Gathering of Psalms (An Arthur Kurzweil Book, New York/Jerusalem, 2013) is her first book of poetry.

I wrote Psalmsongs during a time in my life when the Book of Psalms (Sefer Tehillim) was all I could read. I sat in waiting rooms while procedures and imaging and surgeries were taking place, and I read psalms. I felt for those around me, also waiting, with nothing but magazines to occupy their thoughts. King David’s psalms expressed my own deepest emotions during that difficult time. On a given day this could include terror, joy, hope, and despair. These feelings were all held together by a belief in a Creator I cannot fathom. I tried to make each psalm relevant to my torment. The psalmist’s faith in the power of prayer was mine; his enemies, metaphors for evil, were impotent against the Almighty. I found comfort in the psalms, with their raw and unflinching depictions of the human condition, and their intimate, first-person conversations with an inconceivable God.  

Psalm 23 is widely known for its soothing, almost hypnotic reassurance. But psalm 91 was one I kept going back to that year; it’s beautiful concluding Hebrew verses had a surreal, calming effect on me. One day, while in a waiting room, I took out a pen, found a piece of paper, and tried to express it as a poem in English. Slowly, over the next few years, each of the 150 psalms of Tehillim became the poems of Psalmsongs—psalms expressed through the prism of my soul, interpretations rather than translations. In retrospect, I think I was trying to share the gift of psalms, trying to make Tehillim accessible to those who could not read them in Hebrew, or could not relate to the sometimes cumbersome, word-for-word English translations.

Today, in the era of COVID-19, social unrest, and economic insecurity, the psalms remain current, though they were composed millennia ago. We are going through an unprecedented time, with challenges of epic proportions. But we are not the first to experience epic challenges. We are not the first to be tested, to question faith, to err, to fall, to rise, to be relieved, or to thank God. Enemies—internal and external—still plague us, hope still sustains us. One does not have to be religious to try to make some sense of it all. There is comfort to be found in knowing that our modern questions are ancient questions, and that our common humanity can lead us to seek answers from the Creator.

Psalm 23

You lead  I'll follow

and lack nothing

cushion my falls

softly I'll land in

verdant fields

in calm water

soothe my soul

immerse me in justice

and truth and

in You

 

leaning on You

I have no fear

I tread lightly

through valleys

and shadows

and nightmares and terror

of doomsday and

death

 

Your bounty sustains me

I drink my fill

my thirst is quenched

And I empowered

by your master plan

can face whatever

comes my way

and live my days

in peace 

Gaya Aranoff Bernstein, PsalmSongs: A Gathering of Psalms, p. 23

 

Read more about PsalmSeason here and subscribe for email updates.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

"It is permissible within our religion to defer, or to make up your fast later if you're feeling sick."
From experience, I know that Hispanic families had been greatly, and disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and survey data from the 2021 PRRI-IFYC Religious Diversity and Vaccine Survey corroborates this.
As the last few days of Ramadan are upon us – take our interactive quiz to find out how much you really know about this holy month.
We weren’t sure what to expect or how to navigate the complexities of getting to know colleagues from a distance, but IFYC team members Silma and Nadia welcomed us into their homes, their traditions, and their faith.
As the final project for the class, we wanted to do something that would make our campus a more inclusive, interreligious place.
IFYC is collecting prayers and meditations from diverse faiths to show our solidarity with the people of India, as well as links to charitable organizations that people can support.
Generally, tradition holds that the body is to be cremated or buried as quickly as possible – within 24 hours for Hindus, Jains and Muslims, and within three days for Sikhs. This need for rapid disposal has also contributed to the current crisis.
“Humanitarian Day embodies why Islam is relevant in America today. It’s why many Black Muslims embraced Islam, to be part of the solution, not only in their personal lives, but in their communities." - Margari Aziza Hill, MuslimARC
Recently, I asked a group of IFYC Alumni to share what they do in one sentence. I love their responses because they capture who they are so well.
As a nurse and a physician occupying different spheres in relation to the patient, Anastasia and I held comparable but also differing views about the role of religion and interfaith in the realm of patient care.
El movimiento necesita artistas, educadores, trabajadores de la salud, padres, funcionarios electos, científicos, clérigos, directores generales, y cuantas personas sea posible para hablar en contra de la injusticia donde sea que la veamos.
The scholarship covers the students’ tuition, as well as housing and living assistance while they pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees across all 18 of Columbia’s schools and affiliates.
En esta foto del sábado 9 de mayo de 2020, el Rev. Fabián Arias lleva a cabo un servicio en casa, al lado de los restos de Raúl Luis López quien murió de COVID-19 el mes previo, en el barrio Corona del distrito de Queens en Nueva York.
It is certainly within the rights of philanthropic and political institutions to 'not do religion,' but such an approach undermines any meaningful, holistic commitment to community or place-based humanitarian efforts in much of this country.
Last month, Kevin Singer, co-director of Neighborly Faith, brought two interfaith leaders together to discuss their respective publications and the consequences of the Equality Act on religious organizations, institutions, and places of worship.
It is in this spirit respeaking memory and finding time to etch it into the future that I offer the following exercise. It is designed to do with your friends or folks – preferably three or more. Take some time with it. Use it as a catalyst to...
Imagine my surprise upon coming to USA and celebrating my first Easter, but didn’t people realize it was Easter? Why are all the egg die and chocolates already sold out and none left for us celebrating a few weeks later?
They will, in other words, be learning the skills of mindfulness meditation — the secular version of the Buddhist practice that has skyrocketed in popularity to become America's go-to antidote for stress.
This is a sampling of sacred texts and statements, listed in alphabetical order by religion, that religious communities have used to engage in the work of public health amidst this global pandemic.
Chaplain Fuller’s leadership and guidance has left a lasting, rippling effect on and off campus which will guide communities and individuals into multifaith work and engagement long after her tenure at Elon.
In the grip of a deadly second wave of COVID-19, religious charities and faith-based organizations are among the many civil society groups that have stepped up to mobilize relief efforts.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.