Anna Akhmatova

“The word landed with a stony thud

Onto my still-beating breast.

Nevermind, I was prepared,
I will manage with the rest.


I have a lot of work to do today;

I need to slaughter memory,

Turn my living soul to stone

Then teach myself to live again.”

Anna Akhmatova

 

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By Scott Armstrong

June 23 is the birthday of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, born in a suburb of Odessa in 1889. In 1912, when she 22 years old, she took a pen name and published her first book of poetry. It was a volume of love poems, and it made her a celebrity. But life in Russia was changing. Before a decade had passed, the country had lived through World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, and Akhmatova’s poetry changed as well. She lost her husband in 1921 when he was executed for allegedly taking part in an anti-Bolshevik plot, and the next year, she was told she would no longer be allowed to publish her poetry. She set it aside and worked mainly on criticism and translations.

But when her son was repeatedly imprisoned in Leningrad, she found she couldn’t remain silent any longer. She stood among the women outside the prison, all of them trying to send in packages of food and hoping for word of their loved ones inside. One woman recognized her. “A woman with bluish lips standing behind me … woke up from the stupor to which everyone had succumbed and whispered in my ear, ‘Can you describe this?'” Akhmatova later wrote. In 1935, she began what would become a 10-poem cycle for Stalin’s victims, called Requiem (1935-40). She couldn’t publish it, and didn’t even dare keep a written copy, so she and her friends memorized the poems and then burned them. She finally published it in 1963, 10 years after Stalin’s death. She died in 1966, and a complete collection of her poetry wasn’t published in the Soviet Union until the late 1980s.

Talking Points:

  1. Even though we read the stories and hear the news about suffering around the world, what can be done? How can we involve ourselves in helping refugees, those persecuted and tortured?
  2. What does the memorization of poetry by Akhmatova and her friends teach us about Scripture and “hiding the Word in our hearts”? Does the spoken and written and living Word hold more meaning and influence when we memorize it?
  3. What is courage? Oftentimes we think of bravery as a lone soldier taking a stand against an entire army in an action movie.  Yet, could it be that sometimes the most courageous thing we can do is write and describe the world around us, where evil is present and where God is present also? 

 

To read the complete Requiem, clic here: Anna Akhmatova Poem

The Army And The King

By Rev. Carla Sunberg

Several years ago I heard a sermon by the President of Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, USA — Carla Sunberg.  Rev. Sunberg opened the work of the Church of the Nazarene in Russia and served for 13 years before becoming a pastor and District Superintendent in the United States.  She spoke the following words to 2,000 university students at Olivet Nazarene University and I hope they inspire you as much as they did us that day.  Although many would say that this generation of youth is lazy or apathetic, Dr. Sunberg’s vision is quite different.

The vision? The vision is Jesus.  Obsessively, dangerously, undeniably it is Jesus.  And the vision is an army of young people.  You see bones?  I see an army.  And they are free from materialism.  They laugh at 9 to 5 little prisons.  They could eat caviar on Monday and crusts on Tuesday and they wouldn’t even notice.  They know the meaning of The Matrix and How the West was Won.  They’re mobile like the wind.  They belong to the nations.  They need no passport.  People write their addresses in pencil and wonder at their strange existence.  They are free, yet they are slaves of the hurting and dirty and dying.

And what is the vision?  The vision is holiness.  It’s a holiness that hurts the eyes.  It makes children laugh and it makes adults angry.  It gave up the game of minimum integrity long ago to reach for the stars.  It scorns the good and strains for the best and it is dangerously pure.  Light flickers from every secret motive, every private conversation.  It loves people away from their suicide leaps, their Satan games.  This is an army that will lay down its life for the cause.  A million times a day, its soldiers choose to lose, that they might one day win the great “Well done” of the faithful sons and daughters.  Such heroes are as radical on Monday morning as Sunday night.  And they don’t need fame from names.  Instead they grin quietly upwards and they hear the crowds chanting again and again: “Come on!”  And this is the sound of the underground: the whisper of history in the making, foundations shaking, revolutionaries dreaming.  Once again mystery is scheming in whispers, conspiracy is breathing – this is the sound of the underground.

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And the army is disciplined, and also discipled: young people who beat their bodies into submission.  Every soldier would take a bullet for his comrade in arms.  And the tattoo on their back boasts: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  Sacrifice fuels the fire of victory in their upward eyes.  Winners, martyrs – who can stop them? Can hormones hold them back? Can failure succeed? Can fear scare them or death kill them?

And the generation prays, like a dying man with groans beyond talking, with warrior cries, sulphuric tears, and with great barrel-loads of laughter.  They are waiting and watching 24-7-365.

And whatever it takes they’re going to give.  They are breaking the rules, they are shaking mediocrity from its cozy little hide, they are laying down their rights and their precious little wrongs, laughing at labels, fasting essentials.  The advertisers cannot mold them.  Hollywood cannot hold them.  Peer pressure is powerless to shake their resolve.  At late night parties before the cockcrow cries, they are incredibly cool, but dangerously attractive inside.

On the outside they really hardly care.  They wear clothes like costumes to communicate and celebrate, but never to hide.  Would they surrender their image or their popularity? They would lay down their very lives!  They’re going to swap seats with the man on death row who’s guilty as hell, a throne for an electric chair.  With blood and sweat and many tears.  With sleepless nights and fruitless days.  They pray as if it all depends on God, and they live as if it all depends on them.

Their DNA chooses Jesus.  He breathes out, they breathe in.  Their subconscious sings.  They had a blood transfusion with Jesus.  Their words make demons scream in shopping centers.  Don’t you hear them? Herald the weirdoes; summon the losers and the freaks.  Here come the frightened and forgotten with fire in their eyes.  They walk tall and trees applaud.  Skyscrapers bow.  Mountains are dwarfed by these children of another dimension.  Their prayers summon the hounds of heaven and invoke the ancient dream of Eden.

And this vision will be.  It will come to pass, it will come easily, it will come soon.  And how do I know? Because this is the longing of creation itself, the groaning of the Spirit, the very dream of God.  My tomorrow is his today.  My distant hope is his 3D.  And my feeble, whispered, faithless prayer invokes a thunderous, resounding, and bone shaking: Amen!  From countless angels.  From heroes of the faith.  From Christ himself.  And he is the original dreamer.  He is the ultimate winner.  It’s guaranteed.  That’s my King.