My Grandfather’s Blessings

By Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.
Riverhead. 2000. 382 pp. $24.95. ISBN 1-57322-150-3

Reviewed by Ann Brizendine, Maryville, Mo.


"Everything unborn in us and the world needs blessing. My grandfather believed that the Holy has made all things. 'It is up to us to strengthen them and feed them and free them whenever possible to find and fulfill his purposes for them,

Neshume-le [Hebrew for beloved little soul],’ he told me. Blessings strengthen life and feed life just as water does” (p. 5).

In this collection of essays, Dr. Rachel Remen shares with us how her grandfather, Rabbi Meyer Ziskind, gave her an understanding of life’s sacred elements. Then how she in her medical and counseling practice has come to find these blessings running through all of life.

I believe the Apostle Paul would have liked Remen’s examples of how “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:31 NRSV). This book is rich with nourishing spiritual stories. Remen lays out the essays by themes — “Receiving Your Blessings,” “The Web of Blessings” and “Befriending Life” are three of the major sections of this relaxing read.

Unlike some story collections, these exchanges are neither naive or simplistic. Instead, they are thick with reality and life’s complexity. The spiritual challenges and struggles Remen shares intertwine with the people we know or have known and they speak both about who we are and who we hope to be. The characteristics of faith, service and compassion are revealed in amazing ways by her reflections.

Remen captured both my attention and my spirit in her introduction. She begins with how her grandfather celebrated her and God on Friday evenings. After prayers he would have the young girl stand in front of him. He would put his hands on her head and thank God for her, mentioning both the good times of the week and her struggles. He told God how hard she had tried to learn or how brave the small child had been in the dark or any accomplishment she had during the week. Rabbi Ziskind thanked God for her and that he was her grandfather.

This story began to work on my very foundations. What would the world be if each of us took our child or grandchild and for a few moments each week thanked God for them and for their lives in their presence?

Often we express our love and gratitude for these children to others, but seldom in their presence. What would the lives of all our children be if we celebrated them so they could hear it every week? How much more balanced would life become if we recognized each encounter and every challenge as a blessing sent from God?

This collection is a very useful and realistic source of sermon illustrations. But more than that, it is a source of nourishing devotional materials to open new ways of thinking and responding.

Two questions have come to the forefront of my prayer and meditation time: Am I leaving my blessings lying around me unopened? How can I serve others in opening our blessings together?