In his new book, Accidental Grace, poet-rabbi Rami M. Shapiro transforms Psalms, Jewish prayers, and Bible poetry into fresh lines that send us thoughtfully reeling into spiritual realms.
Published by Paraclete Press, who kindly sent me a copy to review, this highly recommended book brings wisdom, humor, and spiritual insights into ancient biblical truths, which the poet reveals as relevant today.
Take, for instance, Psalm 1, which many of us know in the King James Version (KJV) as beginning: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.”
Notes in newer translations of the Bible often acknowledge that the word “Blessed” at the beginning of Psalm 1 is not the same Hebrew word that’s usually rendered “blessed” but, instead, is more akin to saying, “Oh, the joy!” or “How happy.”
In his smoothly written lines running roughly parallel with Psalm 1, Rabbi Shapiro wakes us up with this rendition:
“Do you want to be happy?
Ignore the counsel of the selfish;
avoid the path of the cruel;
refuse the company of nihilists.
Do you want to be happy?
Delight in life unfolding;
immerse yourself in what is as it is, from morning to night.”
In considering a Psalm that’s even better known, Rabbi Shapiro begins his poetic version of “Psalm 23” like this:
“You alone shepherd me,
lessening my needs and fulfilling them.
Lying delighted in lush green pastures,
I know You are all.”
Then he closes the poem with these thought-inducing lines:
“When I walk with You and know it is You who walks as me,
I leave only goodness and mercy in my wake,
knowing every place is Your place, and every face is Your face.”
Following the section of contemporary psalms we find a group of insightful “Poems” to welcome such as “Welcoming Angels,” which contains these lines:
“In the deeper quiet
I sense the greater Life that is my life.
I do not live only; I am lived.
I do not breathe only; I am breathed.
I am not only the one I appear to be
but also the One who appears as me.”
Another poignant poem, “I Am Loved,” begins:
“I am loved.
Too easy to say, perhaps.
Too fleeting a feeling upon which to anchor a life.
And yet it is so.
I am loved. Though not always by me.”
To give you one more example of the meditative moments that arise with each reading, I’ll print “One Without End” in full:
“Below the birth of becoming
There was the Source of Being.
When all is ended, that Source remains.
Alone without second, the One is all.
This One is my God, my redeemer, my refuge, my shelter.
This One is the cup of life from which I drink daily.
When I wake, as when I sleep, I rest in This.
One Substance in infinite manifestation,
One mind in infinite variation.
Know this and fear not.”
Amen! Then, the last section of the book, entitled “A Parable: Reenvisioning the Book of Job,” is set as a script or screenplay centered on Job’s encounter with God. Although the story ends shy of redemption, the dialogue between God and Job shows a sense of humor, which our One God and Creator of All Types and Seekers, surely has.
© 2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer of traditionally published poetry books and new editions of the Bible, is also a freelance writer in all genres and poet-author of 3 books of poems: Living in the Nature Poem, the children’s book Beach Songs and Wood Chimes, and her book of Bible-based poems, Outside Eden.
Accidental Grace, French flap paperback