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I have started my way into the book The Lord Is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner.  If  the author's name does not ring a bell with you, perhaps the title of one of his other books may seem a bit more familiar:  When Bad Things Happen To Good People.  Kushner suggests the Twenty-Third Psalm is the only chapter in the entire Bible that most English-speaking people would know by heart.  His book, written in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, attempts to explore the wealth of consolation to be found in this beloved psalm.  Through a series of meditations on each line, Kushner brings new insights to these familiar words.  In Chapter Two, "The Lord is My Shepherd",  Rabbi Kushner completely grabbed me with the following:

"One of the greatest artistic creations ever fashioned by human hands is the Pieta' of Michelangelo, a sculpture done in 1498 when the artist was only twenty-three.  It shows Mary the mother of Jesus holding the broken body of her son on her lap, looking at him with such tenderness and sorrow that one does not have to share Christian belief in the theological significance of the Crucifixion to be moved by it.  The combination of love and sorrow on Mary's face, the sense of her longing to take onto herself some of her son's pain that she might lessen it, speaks to anyone who has loved another person.  There is no questioning its status as a masterpiece of artistic skill.  There is only one problem with it:  The scene it portrays probably never happened.  if you reread the accounts of the Crucifixion in the four gospels, you will find that only in the Gospel of John is Mary even present at the Crucifixion, and even then she is sent away before Jesus dies.  in the other thee versions, Mary is not listed among the Galilean women witnessing Jesus' death.  All accounts of Jesus being taken down from the cross and buried mention other people being involved, but not his mother."

                               

"How can Michelangelo's Pieta' move us so deeply, how can it strike us as so right and so true, if it portrays an event that never took place?  Let me suggest that the woman in the sculpture, the figure holding the broken body of the crucified Jesus, looking at it so sadly and tenderly, is not Mary but God, God in His feminine aspect, not the God who created the world and taught us how to live in it, but the God who created life in all of its fragile vulnerability, the way a mother creates life, a God who grieves for His children when they suffer, who suffers with them when they are cruel to one another, when they hurt and kill one another  Every mother, every parent who suffers the loss of a child is reenacting God's grief at the death of any one of His children.  As one of America's most prominent clergymen, the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, insisted, reaffirming his faith after the death of his son in an accident, "God's was the first heart to break."  This, then, might be the response of God to those who ask, "If the Lord is our shepherd, why do innocent people suffer and die?"  God does not, God cannot promise us happy endings in a world where laws of nature and human cruelty take their daily toll.  God's promise is not that we will be safe, but that we will never be alone."

WOW!!  I now see Michelangelo's work in a new and wonderful way.  Thanks be to God!