Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Psalm 23~God is My Waiter

When we translated Ferenc Visky's interview, I was struck not only by the originality of his understanding of the Psalms, but also by his awareness of God's presence in his life - even as he recalled events that were decades old. He, like many others no longer within the walls of Gherla Prison, lived in the shadow of the secret police, the Securitate. He once described his release as going from a smaller one into the larger prison of Romania. To maintain a tone of terror in this prison world, the Securitate could demand admittance to any home, anywhere, anytime. Considered enemies of the state, the Visky family was a regular recipient of such visits. 

Psalm 23

Ferenc Visky~June 2003
In 1980 we were free from prison but had another house search one day when we were having breakfast. Five people entered, secret police from Bucharest. One was an important officer; it was a very distinguished group. After they entered, they showed us their permit to search. I said, OK, and we continued having breakfast. We asked them to have a seat in another room because there was no place for them to sit in our breakfast room. They declined and instead chose to stand in the room with us.

So, we continued with our breakfast. I could see that they were uncomfortable with the situation, standing and watching us calmly eating. We should have been the uncomfortable and anxious ones, but they were. This was good. Then we started to talk and I told them that I had known that they were coming that morning because I had read Psalm 23 in my Bible that said, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing. Even if I am in the valley of the shadow of death etc. etc. etc. I told them that this was a treasured psalm for me.

The officer  looked startled and asked me how I knew. I didn’t need to be asked twice, so I began to explain. It meant a great deal to me, I said, that in the Word you can read, ‘You make the table for me in the presence of my enemies. My cup is full and I have no fear even in the valley of death because I know you are with me and your hand holds my hand.’ I told the officer, Usually in a situation like we are in, the appetite of the man about to be arrested is always gone, but now you brought my appetite instead.

They looked puzzled, so I had to tell them that I had a good appetite because the text says that God is the one who prepares my table. So, I continued, God is my waiter today or I should say, host. Please understand that God is very near to us, but he doesn’t always put on the table the sort of meal that I really like. For instance, presently, I do not really like what you officers are going to do with us after a few moments, but I’m not looking at the things that are on the table. I’m looking at Him who put you on my table, and this is why I have a good appetite. And this is important to me, that I can be liberated this way at such a moment. This is the message of Psalm 23.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ferenc Visky: Reflections on Psalms 115 and Psalm 90

Because the interview with Ferenc Visky had been rescheduled, the team spent a few days in Hungary and Slovakia and then returned to the Visky home in Oradia/Nagyvarad, for our meeting. Watching him speak throughout the interview made me wish that I could have been present for one of his sermons. Rev. Visky must have been an expressive preacher because he was always in motion; his gestures and facial expressions revealed how involved he was in the Word and with the words he was speaking.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us
But to your name be the glory,
Because of your love and faithfulness
Psalm 115:1 (NIV)

Ferenc and Julia Visky ~June 2003
When we became engaged to marry, the psalms showed up in an interesting way. The once-engaged person is sitting here with me now. Fifty-six years ago we were looking for the confirmation that we belonged together and that we had tasks to do together. We remembered words from Psalm 115.  At that time we had decided to turn toward Romania, and we knew that our field of service would not be in Hungary but in Romania where my father used to be a pastor. It was very good to be in harmony in this and to know that the true meaning of our service would happen under this quote, “Not for us O Lord, but for your name. Soli Deo Gloria. And we wished and we do wish that this will stay with us always.

Teach us to number our days aright
so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12 (NIV)

Maybe I will not tell the stories chronologically - so I am jumping in time now. I would like to tell you about the marriage of my grandchild. He is a pastor, by the way. At his wedding we received a message from Psalm 90, the well-known verse, “Teach us to count our days that we can get a wise heart.” 

According to the text here, we can say that it’s well-known, but I think a verse has to give a new meaning each time it’s read. We usually say that, well, it’s a familiar and well-known verse so I do understand the message. But I think we can’t say this. I won’t tell you the whole preaching here, just some parts of it. First of all, the first words say ‘Teach us.’ It means that I have a need of teaching because I don’t know, because I am standing in front of things that I don’t understand. I don’t know how to be a husband, how to be a wife, how to be a pastor, how to preach, how to be a grandfather.

There were some church leaders present at that wedding, so I preached to professors and to lay leaders of the church district too, the curators. But it was their misfortune that they were present. I preached that I really don’t know how one can be a curator, a professor, or a bishop, and it’s high time to study how to do these things; a whole lifetime is necessary to learn these things. This message alluded to my family’s history.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Contrasts in Culture

On this trip, I left Romania trying to make sense of the many contrasts. Here are a few.

Rural and Urban

Old and Young


. . . and New

Saturday, May 3, 2014

On the Way Home

We were on our way to Nagyvarad/Oradea, when we received a phone call postponing the interview with FerencVisky. We were disappointed, but it was also a relief. I for one was satisfied with a break from the intensity of the previous days. I think the others were quietly relieved too, and the van was peaceful during the long trek home. And then . . . next to the highway, about halfway to the border – I’m not sure who spotted them first –  two men were shearing sheep.

I think we were all happy to stop – no conversations, no differences,  no questions – just cameras. The men were methodically shearing a pen full of sheep with hand clippers.  

That was in 2003. I don't know whether they use the same techniques today, but I was impressed!                                                                               

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Still in Romania ~ With Istvan Tokes

I looked forward to the  prospect of meeting Professor Istvan Tokes, father of Laszlo Tokes, the Reformed pastor famous for his courageous stand against Romania's Communist dictatorship.

Professor Istvan Tokes - June 2003
Professor Tokes, a retired seminary professor, welcomed us with a warm, firm handshake, a delighted smile, and glass of his own sweet wine. The crew set up quickly, and Andras placed him in front of his desk, surrounded by books. Plaques of Reformers dominated the wall behind him.

We politely mentioned the names of the people who had already been interviewed as well as the names of those still on the list. We reviewed the reason the interviews had been
 set up – to understand the survival of faith and the way that the Genevan Psalter reflected the suffering and the survival of the Reformed believers.

The Entryway
Apparently eager for polite introductions to be over, he seemed pleased when the interview began in earnest in Hungarian. I could sense that the topic we proposed was only tangentially related to other questions and topics important for him. The translation proved that I had guessed correctly. The long version of his
Rev. Laszlo Tokes
interview is being edited for inclusion in a book. It will include his discussion of the episcopal structure of the Reformed Church in Hungary and Romania, the confessing church vs. the folk church, and theological influences that shaped the response to the Communist dictatorship.

I’m not sure how long this interview lasted, but when it was over, Tokes spoke for a few minutes in English. Urged to comment on the Genevan Psalms, he spoke briefly, sort of an afterthought, I think. “The psalms,” he said, “were and are very important today in the church liturgy. They are loved by church members and sung with joy. Although there are only 40 Genevan psalms in the version most used by Reformed churches in Transylvania, these 40 are well-used. He explained that after WWI a new psalm book was required, and the committee appointed to handle the revision decided to include more hymns, choosing only those psalms that are most easily sung and understood.

Although the psalms are excellent literature and can stand on that basis, they should also be understood to contain the Word of God. Singing the Psalms is important only to the extent that singing conveys the meaning of the psalms. Singing was and is not as important as the preaching.” Spoken like a true preacher.

With that, we all stood up and stretched. While equipment was being dismantled, Tokes showed us his rosegarden and cut two long-stemmed roses, one for Bernadette and one for me.

Ah! He loved flowers; he was a gardener too.