STILL WATERS AND SKYSCRAPERS: The 23rd Psalm for the 21st Century
The cover of STILL WATERS AND SKYSCRAPERS mirrors the title --- a glassy lake in the foreground of a towering cityscape, the serene juxtaposed against the frantic. That's not to say that this book is only for city dwellers or for the young tech-savvy generation. It's for anyone in need of a steadying hand. "Anyone who suggests that life can be pain-free has not understood Psalm 23," says author Dave Tomlinson, an Anglican priest in London.
There's a timeless quality to the shepherd imagery of the psalm. "It is interesting that the most common pictorial representation of Christ in early Christian art --- consistently chosen in preference to images of crucifixion or kingship --- is that of the Good Shepherd," notes Tomlinson. He also reminds us that on September 11, 2001, on the fated Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania, heroic Todd Beamer and a cell phone operator recited Psalm 23 and the Lord's Prayer. (Do kids in the 21st century still memorize these foundational scriptures?)
I was rather dismissive of Tomlinson's slim book until last week when I heard a family story. Looking for comfort and strength from his dad, my nephew Andy phoned home. He was entering a difficult season of life. His mother-in-law had just died, and Andy needed to be strong for his family. What advice did his father give him? "Just keep saying the 23rd Psalm."
I immediately thought of the subtitle of Tomlinson's book, which I'd read a month ago, "The 23rd Psalm for the 21st Century." I was surprised that I still remembered and felt encouraged by some of the anecdotes: a policeman in training who quoted the first line of the psalm as he faced an oncoming truck and possible death, a reminder of Francis Thompson's "Hound of Heaven" poem and its portrayal of God's pursuing grace (the psalm's "goodness and mercy" that "follow me all the days of my life").
In 13 chapters Tomlinson walks through the psalm, line by line, from "The Lord is my shepherd" to "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever," in each case digging down to discuss the underlying and timeless human or godly characteristic: desire and fulfillment, spiritual hunger and nourishment, forgiveness and reconciliation, gratitude. He mixes exhortation and biblical explanation with anecdotes and quotes from contemporary standards such as Frederick Buechner, Madeleine L'Engle, Harold Kushner, Desmond Tutu and C. S. Lewis.
Overall, there's nothing terribly profound in STILL WATERS AND SKYSCRAPERS. And yet, I intend to heartily recommend Tomlinson's book to my nephew Andy and his dad, for its encouraging words in any season of life.
--- Reviewed by Evelyn Bence.
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