29 Aug 2014

A bus blessing from the Psalms

The other day I was riding the city bus to work. Another passenger, just before he got off the bus, turned to the rest of us and said, "This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." Then he left the vehicle.

I had two reactions. First, I suddenly had the Genevan tune for Psalm 118 running through my head. (This won't surprise people who know me well.) Second, I was pleased that someone was willing to begin his day with a heart of gratitude and was willing to impart something of this to his fellow passengers. How many of us would have the courage – or effrontery – to do something similar?

27 Aug 2014

One hundred years later: the Psalms and the First World War

Everyone knows how it all started. It was the end of June in 1914. Tensions had been building for decades among the rival European powers. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was visiting Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, when he and his wife were assassinated by a Serb nationalist named Gavrilo Princip. Vienna’s annexation of that province six years earlier had nearly led to war then, but now the real thing was only one month away. When the dust had cleared and the war was over four years later, some sixteen million people had died, and the world was never the same again. Ancient empires fell, with kings and emperors toppled from their thrones and exiled. Entire populations were cruelly uprooted from their homes, simply because they happened to live on the wrong side of arbitrary boundaries set during and after hostilities had ended.

Nearly four decades ago, I visited Prague, the capital of what was still communist-ruled Czechoslovakia and, before the First World War, part of Austria-Hungary. During my time there, I purchased in an antiquarian bookshop a Czech-language New Testament and Psalms published in 1845 for “Evangelical Christians of the Augsburg and Helvetic Confessions,” that is, for Lutheran and Reformed Christians. The print was in the old German black letter font, and even some of the spelling was obsolete.

It was not until seven years ago that I noticed something interesting about the Psalms in this volume. An early owner of the book, whose surname was Lány, read through the Psalms at the pace of approximately one psalm per day (except, of course, for Psalm 119), taking time to mark the date at the top of each. He started with Psalm 1 on “1./8.”, or the 1st day of August 1914, and continued until he read Psalm 150 on “18./I. 1915,” that is, the 18th of January 1915.

I am convinced that the timing of his praying through the Psalms was not accidental.

Read the complete article here.

1 Aug 2014

Psalm 24 in Frisian

Here is a link to a pdf copy of Lof Fen Alle Tiden: Psalmen, Gezangen, en Lieten, published in 1934, containing, among other things, several of the Genevan Psalms in the Frisian language. Frisian is a west Germanic language spoken in the north part of the Netherlands and into the far northwest part of Germany, including the Frisian Islands. Linguists have identified Frisian as the closest relative to English and Broad Scots, and there are persistent rumours that Frisians can read Beowulf in the original. Here is the Frisian versification of Psalm 24, whose first line bears an obvious resemblance to the English expression, "The wide world is God's domain":

De wide wrald is Gods domein,
De rike ierd fen ein to ein,
Mei al hwa 't hjir hjar wenplak founen;
Hwent Hy, Hy joech se stal en ste,
Hy lei yn 't hert fen de iiv'ge se,
Fen stream en wetterfloed hjar grounen.

Heevje op, o poarten, heevje 't haed,
En iiv'ge doarren, breedzje 't paed,
Lit yn, lit yn de Foarst der eare!
Hwa dochs dy kening weze mei?
't Is Hy, geweltich yn Syn wei,
Geweltich yn 'e striid — de Heare.

Heevje op, o poarten, heevje 't haed,
En iiv'ge doarren, breedzje 't paed,
Lit yn, lit yn de Foarst der eare!
Hwa dochs dy Kening weze kin?
De God fen ierde' oanbigjin;
Det is us Kening, det us Heare.