When our sons were little, we used to take them to Mt. Saviour Monastery in Pine City, New York, where Br. David Steindl-Rast lived at the time. There, the boys could see newborn lambs in April and, later in the year, watch with fascination as sheep were shorn.
But not every child is fortunate enough to grow up with sheep imagery in their repertoire, especially compared with the era when the 23rd Psalm was written. I Am Not Afraid — by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, Director of the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts Initiative and one of our favorite childen's book authors — provides a bridge to understand the spirit of the psalm in a more familiar context. The sheep are a girl's stuffed toy and the animals she counts to induce sleep. The cool water is in the water bottle beside her bed.
And the shadows, as in "the valley of the shadow of death"? They are the ever-present shadows in darkened rooms that frighten children at night:
They jump on my bed, somersault on my rug,
and dance on my nightstand.
The girl takes comfort in hugging her warm blanket and sipping her cool, sweet water — simple, sensory ways of becoming grounded again. And from the very start, she invokes God as her Comforter.
The words, tailored for bedtime and contemporary kids, allude to Psalm 23 and follow some of its format. They leave some parts out — like "my cup overflows" — and add some details — like awakening to a new day. So we were glad to see the whole psalm, in New Revised Standard Version, at the back of the book. Four to seven year olds comforted by the bedtime story will be further enriched by the words of this most beloved of psalms.
The book concludes with helpful information about Psalm 23, including ways to make it your own, and with ideas for making it through scary times. Sasso encouragingly notes that "being brave is being strong enough to name what scares you and to face it with the help of others and with faith."