I have been to Prague only once. While working in the office of the Trans-European Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I regularly visited Budapest, Zagreb, Belgrade, Warsaw and several other capitals of Central and Eastern Europe. These were in the region of Europe for which our office was responsible, but Prague is in the Czech Republic, and the Adventist Church in that country is part of the region that is supervised from Berne (Switzerland). Too bad, because I would have liked to visit Prague from time to time. The only time I was in Prague was about fifty years ago. At that time I worked at Oud Zandbergen (near Utrecht), where a theological school of the Dutch Adventist Church was located. With a group of students I went to Berlin and Prague on an educational trip. It was quite an undertaking, because the iron curtain hung like a ruthless separation across Europe and it took the major preparations to get the stamps that Western citizens needed in their passport to travel to the East. I will not easily forget that one of the students lost his passport and had to stay behind in Prague and couldn’t get back by train to the Netherlands until more than a week later. But above all, I remember the baroque splendor of the city of Prague and the sites with memories of Johannes Hus, a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation.
There is a lot I would like to see in Prague, but I would make a speial effort to get an appointment with Tomás Halík, a Catholic priest and professor of theology and sociology. I already mentioned him in my blog of last week as an example of someone who brought great sacrifices for his faith in the days of communism. In the past week I finished reading the almost 400 pages of his autobiography.
I must say that the book touched me profoundly. Maybe one of the reasons is that much in my life shows a parallel with Halík’s life history. His life, just like mine, has always been a mix of many different activities, partly of an academic, but partly also of a pastoral and of an administrative nature. And we certainly also have our wanderlust in common. After the disappearance of communism, Halík took every opportunity to go to countries where he had never been before, and I always took every opportunity to travel. And both Halík and I love preaching, lecturing and writing books. But I realize only too well that I cannot stand in the shadow of this genial spirit and that his books have an unprecedented depth. Yes, should I in the future have the opportunity to visit Prague, I would try to meet this inspiring man in person and thank him for the way his life story and his other books have inspired me.
What particularly struck me in Halik’s autobiography was his honest description of the deep mental depression he experienced at one point in time, as a result of an episode in which a number of friends and colleagues turned against him. It then took him some time to get back on his feet and to climb out of his crisis of faith. Looking back, he saw the crisis as a positive experience, as a period in which he went through a maturation that enriched his life. Many will recognize that (as I do myself). We can emerge stronger from difficult phases in our personal and/or professional lives.
Tomás Halík has written a number of books that have also been translated into other languages. A few years ago I read his book entitled Patience with God. I highly recommend it. Every year Halík withdraws for a whole month into a monastery in Rhineland, where for a few weeks he leads the life of a hermit and writes all day long. This autobiography was also created in such a “hermit month”. Maybe I should try that too!