His words drew us together, an unlikely pair.

A homeless non-Jewish man, a middle-class Orthodox woman.

The sentences were compelling, magnetic ... drawing our souls together into a pillar of earnest prayer that humbly, powerfully soared straight up. A flaming torch.

In our daily lives, we traveled in vastly different spheres. I drove down pleasant streets to Trader Joe’s and the grocery, throwing my yoga mat and Zumba shoes in the trunk so I could stop at the J for a workout.

He’d been spending the last few monthsHe seemed so composed, articulate, and positive carefully building his skill set as a cook, working programs that would let him get out of an inner-city shelter and into a starter home of his own.

A wiry man with a neatly trimmed graying beard, Sam was pacing back and forth in the small hospital room when I knocked. He greeted my, “Hi, I’m Chaplain Miriam” with friendly intensity and dove right into his story, his challenges.

They were many. He seemed so composed, articulate and positive that I was surprised to learn how close to the edge his life was. He’d been so focused on rebuilding a future, and BAM! Once again, the carpet seemed to be pulled out from under him; he was in the hospital. His ID had been lost in a bureaucratic black hole. He was trying not to despair.

But he had a singular point of light and strength that kept him going—he said it was pretty much all that kept him going. He was a man of faith. He had passed the night tossing and turning, arguing and crying out to G‑d, and was pacing and searching for answers when I popped in. At the end of our far-ranging, spiritual and practical sharing of ideas, contacts, strategies and venting, he asked to pray together.

And I was ready.

When I started chaplaincy training that fall, I’d copied and prepared some passages of Psalms that might offer encouragement. I read passages for several patients. But I eventually drifted away from pulling them out of my black briefcase, instead offering spontaneous personal entreaties based on the patient’s requests and needs.

A few days before I met Sam, an experienced chaplain encouraged me get back to using these rich texts. One size doesn’t fit all; each patient and situation is different is a basic rule of this craft. While this chaplain didn’t always read Psalms, they were an important part of his “toolbox,” offering a unique solace for many folks.

So before I headed up to the floors that morning, I made copies of several carefully chosen chapters. I flattened the pages of compressed ancient words, inscribed for posterity on some dusty hill in Judea, up against the shiny glass screen of the Canon Copier.

Sam liked going to source materials for his inspiration. He quoted many biblical passages, even mentioning an incident with King David, as we explored his journey. I thought that he would appreciate this contribution. “Hey, Sam,” I said, reaching into my stack. “Would you like to read a chapter of Psalms together?”

I had listened empathetically to Sam’s lament. He talked and processed. All good. And helpful. But pulling out those two sheets, with #27 on the top, transformed our “pastoral consult” into something different altogether.

Giving words to our souls.

That shepherd, sweet singer of Israel. He’s a real poet man. A healer, a soul doctor a prophet who wraps his painful real ecstatic G‑dly vision around us and pours his words of strength, suffering, despair and hope into our beings, uncovering the depths we didn’t have means to vocalize, connecting us to our Father.

King David’s words are thousands of years old, ancient and current, addressing and awakening and expressing thoughts and feelings I didn’t even know I had. While his holy words were uttered in caves and hiding behind rocks, today they were transforming Room 6002 into a sanctuary, a place of refuge and connection.

We each took a sheet. I perched on my chair; he sat across the room in his. We tentatively started reading aloud.

The L‑rd is my light and my salvationwhom shall I fear? The L‑rd is the strength of my lifewhom shall I dread?

It was as if David had overheard our conversation, relating and expressing everything in Sam’s heart.

We continued, voices muted, yet almost singing with strength and focus, full of awe and joy at being perfectly heard and understood, as Sam’s story was told.

... One thing I have asked of the L‑rd, this I seek: that I may dwell in the House of the L‑rd all the days of my life, to behold the pleasantness of the L‑rd, and to visit His sanctuary. For He will hide me in His tabernacle on a day of adversity; He will conceal me in the hidden places of His tent; He will lift me upon a rock ...

Chaplains learn to provide attentive listening. We try to carefully reflect back what the patients express so they feel heard and supported. Sometimes, we gently try to enlarge their perspective, helping them see the strengths or possibilities that they have shared but might not fully see.

David was clearly a master of this art. His words cut to the essence of Sam’s story, reflecting it back in its powerful essence. The intransigent bureaucracy, and the shelter and the insurance details, were just players on a timeless stage—there to enact Sam’s real drama, a soul struggling to stay attuned, to find solace and light in the one Rock that would not crumble:

... In Your behalf my heart says, ‘Seek My countenance’; Your countenance, L‑rd I seek ... You have been my help; do not abandon me nor forsake me, G‑d of my deliverance. Do not give me over to the will of my oppressors, for there have risen against me false witnesses, and they speak evil. They would have crushed me had I not believed that I would see the goodness of the L‑rd in the land of the living ...

We kept reading. There was an unspokenThe powerful imagery added a magnificence to his struggle amazement. As each sentence arose from our throats, was pulled off the page and into the air, it seemed to exactly reflect yet another aspect of Sam’s story. The oppressors, his struggle to stay calm and polite in the face of obstacles, his efforts to cling to G‑d, to stay close.

And the powerful imagery added a magnificence to his struggle. Words that I wouldn’t even think of, or that might sound presumptuous coming from me, just jumped off the page with resounding strength. Jubilation. Tabernacle, Wrath. Deliverance. Countenance.

Verse 14 ended the chapter with a bang, with resolute marching orders:

Hope in the L‑rd, be strong and let your heart be valiant, and hope in the L‑rd.

A warm silence.

We sat, then slowly raised our eyes and smiled to each other, having gone through an intense and invigorating experience.

As we quietly came back into earth orbit and integrated our infusion of light, I slowly stood and gathered my stuff, reiterating the name of a social worker who might be able to help him recreate his ID. Sam thanked me profusely for the visit.

“My great honor, really,” I said as I headed to the door. “Thank you, Sam. Blessings to you.” And I stepped into the bustling corridor around the bulky medical cart and two doctors reviewing a chart.



You might question (as my cynical voice does): “Hey, that was a la la sweet spiritual experience, but what difference will it really make? He’s still got the health problems, the financial struggles, so much piled up against him. How are those few floaty minutes chanting some nice words going to help even one iota?”

There, in that room, we knew. Something had shifted. A transcendence—a broad and deep perspective had been added. No, the problems didn’t magically vanish. But he’d been touched. G‑d had his back. He had an eternal ally to help him maintain his dignity “in the face of the enemy.”

He was walking through his battle and his path with King David. His battle was a path towards G‑d—not merely a futile struggle of a powerless man in a sometimes racist society with the cards stacked against him. On one level, that might be true. But there was an eternal significance he had touched, and that would shine strength and endurance to help him navigate the frustrating and trying particulars.

The magic, the solace and resonance of David’s eternal words: Hope in the L‑rd, be strong and let your heart be valiant, and hope in the L‑rd.